Admiral Fell Inn grows in 3 directions Changing: 3-year DTC project will increase guest rooms from 39 to 80 in eight interconnected buildings, while more than quadrupling meeting space.

November 28, 1995|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

From the rooftop, soon to be a huge, glass-enclosed gathering place offering panoramic city views, to three historic townhouses next door, to a new building erected in part of a courtyard, the Admiral Fell Inn is expanding upward, outward and inward.

The historic Fells Point inn's $6.5 million, three-year project will increase the number of guest rooms from 39 to 80 in eight interconnected buildings, while more than quadrupling meeting space and adding two new gourmet restaurants.

Renovation and expansion, expected to be completed by spring, is to transform the Admiral Fell into Baltimore's first "boutique" business-oriented hotel. The new breed of accommodations combines the intimacy and warmth of inns with the services and amenities of business hotels.

Wesley A. LaBay, the inn's general manager, said more and more business travelers, particularly corporate boards and executives of smaller companies, have sought such a hotel in Baltimore but found none with enough rooms and meeting space.

Because the Admiral Fell long had only 39 rooms and now offers meeting space for only about 32, the inn has had to turn away numerous would-be corporate guests, Mr. LaBay said. But that will change with the additional rooms and the new fifth-floor space for up to 200 in banquet and meeting rooms offering 360-degree views of Baltimore, from Fells Point to the harbor and the downtown skyline.

Based on inquiries from the likes of Procter & Gamble Co.'s board of directors, city-based sales groups and worldwide insurance agencies, Mr. LaBay said he has no doubt demand justifies the expansion.

Weary of countless nights in huge convention-size hotels with more than 500 rooms, executives attending many smaller gatherings simply want a change of pace, Mr. LaBay said.

"I think there's a big demand for this because people want to be away from the big downtowns sometimes," he said. "Being historic these

days is a big thing. A lot of people are tired of high-rises. They're tired of being one of 500 people walking around."

They've waited a long time for such an alternative. BCW Limited Partnership, a Baltimore investors group, opened the inn in 1985 in buildings dating to the 1850s that had housed a YMCA, a seamen's hostel and a distilling plant, among other things. A year after opening, the owners hoped to expand.

But preservationists balked at plans to expand the inn to 110 rooms. Invoking their rights under an easement the hotel granted in exchange for a historic-preservation tax credit, the preservationists blocked construction.

A 1992 compromise -- scaling back the expansion, preserving the facade and setting the fifth floor back five feet so it's less visible -- enabled the inn to proceed at last.

From the outside, the brick facade will look pretty much the same -- with little evidence of corridors connecting its eight buildings.

The inn will retain a high employee-guest ratio, with 120 to 130 employees for the 80-room hotel, and offer all the business services major hotels provide but inns generally do not: phones in every room, fax services, transparencies, copies. History will coexist with the information superhighway, with computers and fax machines available for in-room use.

Two employees will work full time to meet needs of executives at the hotel for meetings, most of which will run three to four days. Using a paging system, each of the employees will be available to meet business travelers' needs.

"In the small meeting, when you're doing the board of directors and officers of companies, they need support and they're very used to having things done now, from limos to the airport to a driver in Paris the next night," Mr. LaBay said.

With the expansion, Mr. LaBay said, occupancy rates -- now a healthy 76 percent -- are expected to dip but to remain above 60 percent. Along with marketing to attract business travelers, the inn also expects more wedding parties with the completion of the fifth floor.

Although the Admiral Fell will strive to attract some of the same smaller meetings as large downtown hotels, the expansion has been greeted enthusiastically by hoteliers and other tourism leaders.

With more diverse offerings, they say, the city will become more appealing to business travelers and tourists alike, benefiting other hotels and attractions, and offering an alternative when large conventions book downtown hotels.

"People are always looking for new settings, new surroundings," said Dale Garvin, acting executive director of the Baltimore Convention and Visitors Association. "It just makes our job easier -- to meet the customers' ever-changing needs. Any new opportunity that exists in Baltimore only helps our mission in marketing our entire package."

Mr. Garvin, former general manager of the Hyatt Inner Harbor Hotel, said the niche hotel would not really compete with the downtown hotels.

"Its location is unique, its atmosphere is unique," he said. "It doesn't really compete with anything in Baltimore; it's one of a kind."

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