Convention Center hotel pictured as giant misfit It would tower above addition

March 06, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

The idea of building a 1,000-room hotel atop the proposed expansion to Baltimore's Convention Center was greeted with skepticism yesterday by members of the city's Architectural Review Board, who strongly recommended that the developers consider another site for the hotel.

In their first presentation to the city-paid design panel, architects for the $150 million Convention Center expansion said they have determined it is physically possible to build a hotel above the addition -- meaning the hotel could be built so that its supporting structure would not interfere with the column-free spaces needed below for large conventions.

But they also said the hotel would require 750,000 to 800,000 square feet of space -- making it larger than either the existing 450,000-square-foot Convention Center or the proposed 650,000-square-foot addition. And they presented a series of models showing that the hotel would rise more than 20 stories and dwarf smaller buildings nearby, such as the Otterbein RTC Church and Camden Station.

"Can you put [the hotel] on the Convention Center and have it operate as effectively as if it were freestanding? The answer is yes," said architect Richard Donkervoet. "But it does crowd the site."

Without the hotel, the Convention Center was depicted as a building that continues the low-slung profile of the 1979 facility, on a site bounded by Sharp, Howard, Conway and Pratt streets. It would be attached to the older building by a bridge over Sharp Street, which would remain open to automobile traffic, and its meeting and exhibit spaces would be on the same level as the meeting and exhibit spaces in the existing facility.

The panel praised the design of the addition for the way it would fit in with the city and the original building.

When a scale model of the hotel was added above the south end of the proposed addition, the low-slung profile disappeared and the disparity in size between the hotel and the smaller buildings became obvious.

"Wouldn't you like to get rid of the hotel and put it across the street?" panel member George Qualls asked the architects. He suggested that the hotel be moved to the west side of Howard Street either on the block bounded by Pratt, Howard, Camden and Eutaw streets or in the air rights above the giant medical trade mart proposed for a parcel south of Camden Station.

"You're making the best of the best parts of a very good scheme," said panelist George Notter. "Then you're going to compromise those a little bit to add another element. . . . It seems the whole thing needs to be studied more."

"The existing building, for its size, doesn't 'show' as big as it is, and we wouldn't want to come back and lose what we accomplished the first time around," responded architect George Loschky, a member of the design team.

The convention headquarters hotel is planned by the same Parkway/Swirnow Group that has proposed to build a medical trade mart just east of the B&O warehouse and the new baseball stadium. Parkway/Swirnow has been given until August 1992 to refine its plans for the medical mart and hotel. The Convention Center expansion is a state project on city-owned land.

The head of the Parkway/Swirnow team, developer Richard Swirnow, has said his group would like to build the hotel in the airrights above the Convention Center because it would be easier to finance with that link.

Tom Marudas, vice president of Parkway/Swirnow, said after yesterday's meeting that his group is willing to consider other sites besides the Convention Center air rights but prefers the air rights proposal and will continue exploring it.

"From our standpoint, and the standpoint of our contacts in Asia, it would be easier to finance [the hotel] as an air rights project because then it would be perceived as an ideal situation," he said. But "we're not closing ourselves off to everything else. We want the project to work in the best way possible. We're just at the very beginning of this. . . . We'll try to come up with something that will respect the integrity of everybody."

The architects include Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet of Baltimore; the Leon Bridges Co. of Baltimore; and Loschky Marquardt & Nesholm of Seattle. Planning for the Convention Center addition is being overseen by Bruce Hoffman, the Maryland Stadium Authority's executive director.

In January, Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed combining the Stadium Authority and the Convention Center Authority, since the state agencies oversee projects that are practically side by side. Under his plan, the city of Baltimore would continue to finance operations of the Convention Center, but the Stadium Authority -- for which Mr. Schaefer has high regard -- would run it. A bill to formalize that arrangement is pending before the state legislature.

Mr. Hoffman said he was happy to be involved. "We feel we've hit a real home run with the baseball stadium," he said. "We don't want to do anything to the north and the east that would hurt our project."

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