Owners of the Southern Hotel are seeking permission to tear down the city landmark and replace it with a park until they are ready to move ahead with construction of a $180 million office tower.
Baltimore's Architectural Review Board was scheduled to see plans this week for a "people's park" that would be constructed in place of the vacant 14-story hotel at Light and Redwood streets.
The presentation was postponed at the last minute but most likely will be held next month.
The owners contend the building has deteriorated to the point where it threatens public safety.
"It's a hazard. It's an accident waiting to happen," said Dirk Mosis, head of Mosis & Associates, a group that is working with One Light Street Joint Venture, the group planning the One Light Street office tower.
The move to raze the Southern Hotel, which was added to Baltimore's landmark list in 1986, marks a change of stance on the part of the hotel owners and has already drawn opposition from local preservationists. The owners received permission to tear down the hotel in 1989 but indicated then that they would wait until they were able to build the replacement.
The owners say the recession has kept them from proceeding with construction of the 45-story office building. But they would like to move ahead with the site clearance since they have already received approval from Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP).
"When we were talking to CHAP in 1989, we thought the [new] building would be under way a lot sooner," Mr. Mosis said. But the longer the old building remains standing, the more it deteriorates and poses a safety threat, he said.
Mr. Mosis said they are proposing to create and maintain a fenced park that could "bring some activity to this part of town" during the day and be closed at night. He said it would have a performance area and a space for vendors.
Area preservationists say razing the hotel and not building the tower would devastate Redwood Street, one of the most attractive thoroughfares in Baltimore's financial district.
"I don't think the city needs another park," said Donna Shapiro, an officer of Baltimore Heritage, a preservation advocacy group. "The city doesn't need another hole on Light Street, right across from Maryland National Bank."