Major hotel proposed at BCCC site 'Market Square' would have 800 rooms, retail space, parking

Opposite Power Plant

Cordish project aims to bring redevelopment east of Inner Harbor

September 21, 1996|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

In one of the most ambitious downtown development plans in years, the Baltimore-based Cordish Co. has proposed an 800-room luxury hotel, upscale stores and enclosed parking on a state-owned site across from the Inner Harbor.

The hotel anchoring the 27-story, $114 million "Market Square at the Inner Harbor" would become the city's biggest -- and the first major one to open downtown since the Renaissance Harborplace hotel in 1988.

Linked to the Pier 4 Power Plant by a proposed pedestrian bridge across Pratt Street, Market Square would provide direct access to the entertainment and retail complex that the Cordish Co. plans to open inside the hulking former steam-generating plant.

A major hotel chain would run the hotel, to be built on the site of a parking lot and vacant Baltimore City Community College building bounded by Market Square and Pratt, Gay and Lombard streets, according to details of the proposal obtained by The Sun.

David Cordish, the developer who heads the Cordish Co., confirmed key details of the plan yesterday and said a major financial institution had committed in writing to bankrolling it.

But he declined to identify details of the financing or to name the hotel chain, except to say he would seek no city or state subsidy.

Cordish's plan came in response to a request for proposals by the state Department of General Services.

Without setting specific uses for the one-block site, the state said proposals must benefit the city and state and at least double the estimated 250 parking spaces in the current ground-level lot on the site.

Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for General Services, said state law forbade him to identify any developers making proposals or to say how many did so.

The state, whose request did not put a price tag on the site, could select one proposal, then set a price and accept a formal bid or accept no proposal, he said.

Cordish said he views Market Square as a key gateway needed to extend the city's downtown tourism, entertainment and retail center east of the Inner Harbor basin, reviving a largely dormant area beset by past failures.

"This will link the water with what's across the street and spread the economic development from the water, which the city needs," Cordish said.

"The Inner Harbor has got to just keep growing and ripple out, and this will begin that process. I mean, we just can't keep this little line of success along the water. We've got to cross the street and go north and pick up these other areas," he said.

With completion of a $151 million expansion tripling the Baltimore Convention Center's size, Cordish and some tourism experts said, the hotel also would provide much-needed lodging for conventioneers.

And the 500 enclosed parking spaces would be welcome downtown, where the shortage is expected to worsen considerably with the opening of such attractions as the Port Discovery children's museum, the Columbus Center's Hall of Exploration and the Power Plant.

Preliminary designs for Market Square call for a red-brick and beige facade with a 10-story rotunda at the corner of Pratt and Market Square for retail.

The tallest portion, at 27 stories, would be set back behind the rotunda along Market Square, where hotel rooms would offer unobstructed views of the waterfront.

Amenities would include amphitheater-like conference rooms equipped with the latest in telecommunications and computer technology, an indoor pool, saunas and whirlpools.

Market Square would become the most ambitious hotel to date for Cordish, who has built a nationwide reputation for transforming mostly retail projects into successes in some 30 cities.

Among his company's hotel credits is a luxury 500-room Omni, atop a retail mall, in Charleston, S.C., that is widely credited with helping revive the downtown since its opening a decade ago.

The company is now developing a 300-room Omni in New Haven, Conn., near Yale University.

Cordish's proposal drew enthusiastic initial responses yesterday from tourism experts and heads of major attractions.

They said the proposed complex and the adjoining Power Plant would form a potent combination, significantly boosting Baltimore's appeal.

"It's fabulous; it's a tremendous shot in the arm for the city and for tourism," said Mary Jo McCulloch, director of the Maryland Hotel & Motel Association and the Maryland Tourism Council.

"With this project, I think people will travel to Inner Harbor areas they haven't even seen before.

"We've been waiting for something like this for a long time."

Stan Heuisler, director of the Columbus Center, which plans to open its high-tech Hall of Exploration attraction late this year, shared those sentiments.

"Almost anything that helps the east end of the Inner Harbor as a primary destination would be looked upon with great joy by the Columbus Center," Heuisler said.

"Obviously, this project would benefit us greatly."

The city has struggled for decades to extend the much-touted downtown renaissance to the area immediately surrounding the proposed Market Square.

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