Thinking Beyond Harrison's

September 12, 1994

An interim caretaker has taken over the financially troubled Harrison's Pier 5 hotel at the Inner Harbor after the Schmoke administration had to abort its messed-up selection process of a permanent operator.

This temporary arrangement should not cloud the greater issue: Building the 71-room inn was a mistake in the first place and the hotel is unlikely to ever be a commercial success.

For that reason, the Schmoke administration should do nothing to compound the initial mistake -- made during the mayoralty of William Donald Schaefer. It ought to keep all options open by making sure that waterfront parcel will be properly redeveloped if the hotel operation flops once again.

The city took title to the troubled hotel in December. It was a wise move. Harrison's, after all, occupies a pivotal piece of waterfront real estate in front of the $160 million Columbus Center which is scheduled to be completed in another four months.

The question now is whether the hotel's proximity to the Columbus Center will be enough to make it profitable. The fundamental problem is the hostelry's capacity: it is too large to be an intimate inn, but too small to be of interest to convention visitors who want to be in the center of things.

Now to the fumbled process of selecting an interim operator, which ended with the original choice being disqualified because of a murder conviction.

We understand the delicate balancing act Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke tried to accomplish.

He did not want to become a hostage of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, which wanted to use Harrison's as a pilot site for its "social compact" of higher wages and benefits for hotel and restaurant workers. To defuse the BUILD problem, he wanted to find a minority interim operator. The trouble is he did so by cutting short the conventional selection process and ending up with the wrong man.

This sad saga tells volumes about the Schmoke administration. After seven years in office, the mayor still is committing elementary gaffes. His staff work is often chaotic and clumsy, leading to embarrassments like these.

The city is now reopening the selection process in search of an interim operator. Considering what has happened so far, we urge the Baltimore Development Corp. to conduct it in an open manner so various competing proposals for the management contract or a purchase option can be fully and publicly scrutinized.

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