Down the drain

January 03, 1991

The future of the Belvedere Hotel is again at question after a promising deal to sell the aging landmark to Florida developer Judah Hertz fell through and the building wound up on the auction block. A group representing the Belvedere's out-of-town creditors purchased the property last week, but plans remain unclear. What is virtually certain, however, is that the city, which has poured some $6.6 million into the Belvedere over the years, stands to lose a bundle. Now it's unlikely Baltimore will ever see any of its money again.

The latest crisis was precipitated precisely because Mayor Schmoke finally decided enough was enough. His refusal in October to loan the hotel another $3 million precipitated its plunge into bankruptcy. It was pure bad luck that final efforts to rescue the Belvedere began just as the national economy slid into recession; just six months ago the deal worked out with Hertz might have worked. But it was always apparent that the city was in a race against time to extricate itself from its resource-devouring entanglement with the Belvedere; the developments of the last month show that it was a race Baltimore simply could not win.

So the city is left with $6 million, in effect wasted, and virtually no say in the disposition of the property it paid so dearly to preserve. There ought to be a lesson here about throwing good money after bad. The kind of public-private partnerships epitomized by the Belvedere project may still be useful and necessary for spurring redevelopment in troubled neighborhoods. But in the future we trust officials won't wait until the alarm bells have been clanging for as long as the Belvedere's did before cutting their losses to keep the entire investment from going down the drain.

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