Wasting an opportunity Hotel decision: City proposes subsidies to a complex far from the Convention Center.

February 28, 1997

BALTIMORE DEVELOPMENT Corp. and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke have made a risky decision in throwing their support behind a 27-story, 900-room hotel complex that is proposed for the waterfront south of Little Italy. Of three sites suggested for a major hotel, this is farthest away from the Convention Center, which is struggling for bookings despite a recent $151 million expansion that tripled its size.

Bolstering the Convention Center's viability was the chief stated reason last fall when the city's quasi-governmental development agency became involved in trying to attract a new "headquarters" hotel here. But when proposals were invited from developers, no one was interested in building next to the Convention Center, although the city's convention chief, Carroll Armstrong, had publicly preferred that site.

Instead, Westin Hotels proposed a 44-story hotel for the former News American property on Pratt Street; David Cordish advocated a 27-story hostelry a bit farther east and bakery magnate John Paterakis suggested a 750-room hotel, supplemented by a 150-suite inn, on his Inner Harbor East parcel.

None of these sites was without problems. The Paterakis parcel seems the most problematic. It is nearly a mile away from the Convention Center in an area that is off the beaten path and commercially untested. Yet the mayor thinks that once a hotel is built there, visitors will follow to enjoy its striking views.

The mayor likes the Paterakis waterfront site because it is in an empowerment zone area. A hotel there would create 600 jobs and generate more economic activity and employment around it. And he would get kudos -- and possibly additional grants -- from the Clinton White House, which regards Baltimore's empowerment effort as a national model.

Mr. Schmoke and the BDC board are taking too big a gamble. If a hotel fails at the Paterakis location, it would be a major liability for the city, adding to the Convention Center's woes. Of course there is the cynical possibility that certain forces count on the failure of the Inner Harbor East hotel so that they could argue the huge public and private investment must be rescued by allowing casino gambling there.

We urge Mr. Schmoke to reconsider. That failing, the state should act. The city expects the state to come up with a $15 million contribution for the hotel. Since the state bankrolled the Convention Center, it should see to it that Baltimore gets the kind of hotel, properly placed, that will make that spectacular edifice a going concern.

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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