Hotel project passes hurdle with the state The exclusive right to negotiate a deal is won by Cordish Co.

Key step is lease in Dec.

Firm plans to build biggest hotel in city, plus a retail complex

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

The Baltimore-based Cordish Co. has cleared a key hurdle in its bid to build a 27-story luxury hotel, retail complex and enclosed parking garage across from the Inner Harbor, winning exclusive rights to negotiate with the state to develop the prime downtown land.

The state Department of General Services confirmed last night that Cordish's $114 million "Market Square at the Inner Harbor" had been chosen as the best proposal to develop the 2.8-acre, state-owned site.

The project would be anchored by an 800-room hotel that would become Baltimore's biggest and the first major new hotel since 1988.

But Cordish's selection, based on a nine-member committee's review, by no means represents final approval of the company's plan for Market Square.

The developer has until late December to negotiate a long-term lease with the state and trustees of Baltimore City Community College, which now occupies the site. The plans also need approval by the state Board of Public Works, said Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for General Services.

Until a contract is signed, Humphrey said, state law forbids him from the identifying developers who made proposals or to say how many did.

Cordish's proposal came in response to a request for proposals from General Services. Without specifying 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 at a ground-level lot already there.

Based on those measures used to judge proposals, Humphrey said, "The Cordish Company proposal represents the best opportunity to develop the site."

Cordish Co. officials, who could not be reached for comment last night, have said a major hotel chain would run the hotel. It is to be built on the site bounded by Market Square and Pratt, Gay and Lombard streets.

David Cordish, the developer who heads the Cordish Co., also has said a major financial institution had committed in writing to bankrolling the project. But he declined to identify details of the financing or to name the chain that would operate the hotel.

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 Cordish plans to open inside the hulking former steam-generating plant.

Tourism industry leaders welcome the Cordish proposal. They view it as a key gateway needed to extend the city's downtown tourism, entertainment and retail center east of the Inner Harbor basin.

"We certainly would welcome it, and that area of the city would certainly be served by an upscale property," said Mary Jo McCulloch, director of the Maryland Hotel & Motel Association and the Maryland Tourism Council.

"Obviously, there was so very little being built for such a long time in the downtown area, and I think we are beginning to see a renaissance."

The city has long struggled to extend the downtown renaissance to the area immediately surrounding the proposed Market Square.

Two ventures at the Power Plant failed, as did the Fishmarket and the Brokerage entertainment complexes on Market Square.

The Market Square area is now largely dormant, although it is the future site of the Disney-designed Port Discovery children's museum.

With completion of a $151 million expansion tripling the Baltimore Convention Center's size, tourism experts also said the hotel would provide much-needed hotel rooms to house conventioneers.

But some hoteliers and Carroll R. Armstrong, the president of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, insist a convention hotel should be adjacent to the center and connected by walkways.

And some hoteliers have expressed skepticism and concern that a major hotel could glut the market and drive down rates, particularly during the slow winter months. They also point out that years of lax marketing have led to a sharp decline in future bookings at the convention center, heightening fear about a new big hotel hurting business.

"You open 800 more rooms now, it's just going to dip into everybody's occupancy," said Werner R. Kunz, managing director of the Harbor Court Hotel.

Pub Date: 11/21/96

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