The developer favored by Baltimore to build a publicly subsidized, 900-room hotel complex at Inner Harbor East portrayed the project yesterday as a linchpin in the long-standing effort to spread the glitz and vibrancy of the downtown tourism district.
John Paterakis Sr., the politically influential baking mogul whose company's $112.2 million proposal topped two others for downtown megahotels, brushed aside doubts about whether the site lies too far from attractions and the Baltimore Convention Center.
Building his proposed 750-room hotel at the water's edge off President Street and a 150-suite hotel along Aliceanna Street, Paterakis predicted, would draw hordes of tourists and prove the first choice of conventioneers.
"For the Inner Harbor to keep being successful, you [have] got to keep bringing new things in, new attractions, because people get tired of the same old thing," Paterakis said. "And this hotel will be an attraction, that's for sure."
With only a promenade separating the hotel from the harbor, "the water's going to be the main thing, the main draw, and we're the only hotel that would be directly on the water," Paterakis said.
Paterakis' proposal includes a partnership with the largest black-owned construction firm in the nation. Paterakis has teamed with Herman J. Russell, owner of H. J. Russell, an Atlanta-based, family-owned business that is the fourth-largest African-American company in the nation, according to Black Enterprise magazine.
Russell could not be reached for comment yesterday. His son, H. Jerome Russell, said company officials would be in Baltimore soon to present the development team's plans that will be reviewed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke within 90 days.
Paterakis, president of family-owned H&S Properties Inc., said he has not settled on an operator but is negotiating with the Hilton and Westin hotel chains. Both, he said, have expressed "serious" interest in the hotel in the past two years.
In its proposal to the Baltimore Development Corp. (BDC), which recommended the Inner Harbor East project to the mayor last week, H&S Properties said it could open the hotel by late 1999 if construction begins this year.
Among the megahotel's planned features: upscale shops, 50,000 square feet of meeting space, a 19,000-square-foot ballroom, a 16,000-square-foot terrace overlooking the water, a traditional upscale restaurant, one or two theme restaurants and indoor and outdoor pools.
And, possibly, a European-influenced mode of transportation: Paterakis said he's looking into creating a "people mover" that would transport as many as 2,000 people an hour in enclosed cars suspended by cables over the water, from the hotel's doorstep to stops across the harbor and Camden Yards.
Or, he said, glass-covered boats, heated in winter and air-conditioned in summer, could transport visitors across the harbor.
The BDC's choice and Schmoke's initial support for the Inner Harbor East project surprised many tourism industry veterans and business leaders.
For weeks, most of them had believed BDC and the mayor would favor a 44-story, $173 million Westin Hotel that New York-based Schulweis Realty Co. Inc. had pitched for the former News American site at 300 E. Pratt St. the company controls.
Baltimore's Cordish Co. proposed a 27-story, 800-room hotel for a state-owned site on Pratt Street at Market Place, linked by footbridge to Cordish's Power Plant entertainment complex. But sources said that the Cordish proposal placed a distant third among BDC board members and that the real race was between Schulweis and H&S.
Efforts to reach David Cordish, head of the Cordish Co., were unsuccessful yesterday.
Sources said the price tag on the Schulweis project also played a pivotal role in the close decision. But Harvey Schulweis, the company's president, said a four-star hotel that would meet conventioneers' demands could not be built for less.
Paterakis' hotel proposal fueled speculation that he's ultimately banking on bringing casino gambling to the 20 acres he controls in Inner Harbor East, slated for a long-term $350 million redevelopment effort, which will include a range of residential and business projects. But that would depend on legalizing casino gambling in Maryland -- by no means a certainty, although it has been the subject of heated debate in the General Assembly for two years.
But Paterakis said that while he would consider a casino if the state legalizes gaming, he has no plans to include one in the hotel project now and doesn't believe it needs one to succeed.
Despite considerable doubts among hoteliers, Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association President Carroll R. Armstrong said he believes demand ultimately could sustain an Inner Harbor East hotel and a new hotel or expansion of a hotel near the convention center.
"There's enough existing potential for that. Unfortunately, always, it's the chicken and egg story in terms of which comes first -- the business or the hotel," he said.