The grand ballrooms and banquet halls of the old Belvedere Hotel, scenes of countless proms, wedding receptions and other events for generations of Baltimoreans, will soon be reopened by the owner of the well-known La Fontaine Bleu catering business.
Tom Stuehler, who operates catering facilities in Glen Burnie, East Baltimore and Lanham, recently negotiated a long-term lease for the Belvedere's two 12th-floor ballrooms and has an option to buy them at a later date.
His catering company has similarly taken control of the Charles and Terrace meeting rooms on the lobby level of the old hotel, which has been undergoing conversion to residential condominiums for the past year.
Seeking to capitalize on the Belvedere's grandeur and history, Mr. Stuehler has opened a sales office in the hotel and begun taking reservations for the meeting rooms, which have sat empty for more than a year. He is also planning a series of renovations over the next several months.
"This is the diamond of banquet facilities in Maryland," he said. "The Belvedere has a reputation and a name unto itself. Some of the finest and most prestigious events in the city have taken place here, and the grandeur of these ballrooms is without equal. I want to bring them back to their original grand state."
Mr. Stuehler gained local prominence more than 20 years ago when he converted the shell of a 1950s-era supermarket on Ritchie Highway into La Fontaine Bleu, a Glen Burnie landmark that was featured prominently in the 1980 John Waters movie "Polyester."
His domain also includes LaFontaine Bleu of Baltimore and La Fontaine Bridal Mall at 3107 Erdman Ave., La Fontaine Rouge at 3407 Belair Rd., La Fontaine Bleu in Lanham and a catering operation.
Mr. Stuehler said the Charles and Terrace rooms would be the first to reopen, probably within two months. The Terrace Room probably will revert to its former name, the Palm Room, he said.
The remodeling of the 12th-floor Grand Ballroom and Assembly Ballroom is expected to be complete by fall.
"We anticipate all sorts of events -- social events, downtown business events, fund-raisers, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, wedding receptions," he said. The 10-year lease negotiated by Mr. Stuehler marks the largest portion of the Mount Vernon landmark to be assigned to a new operator since a New York group headed by real estate developer Elliott Sharaby acquired the building in March last year and announced plans to sell individual spaces as condominiums.
The new owners, acting as Belvedere Realty Corp., have since sold 93 of the 112 condominiums, all three restaurants and 92 percent of the commercial space on the building's lower level, project director Joel Michael said.
Belvedere Realty had been negotiating to sell the ballrooms to Martin Resnick, the president of Martin's Caterers, but was unable to reach an agreement, Mr. Michael said.
Mr. Stuehler said the Belvedere ballrooms were brought to his attention by an associate of Dion Dorizas, a local restaurateur who bought the three restaurant spaces in the Belvedere and has since reopened two, the Owl Bar on the lobby level and the Skyline Cafe on the 13th floor. Mr. Stuehler said he hopes to work closely with Mr. Dorizas so that the restaurants and catering facilities can complement each other.
The caterers also plan to market the Belvedere from a sales office and party-planning center they intend to open next month at Greenspring Station in Baltimore County.
The reopening of the Belvedere ballrooms will result in the creation of about 25 full-time jobs and 60 to 75 part-time jobs, Mr. Stuehler said.