Maybe Angelos has the hotel answer

March 22, 1997|By Harold Jackson

MY WIFE SAYS I ''don't like'' to admit it when I'm wrong, which just goes to show she only knows half as much about me as she thinks. I ''hate'' to admit an error. But I'm human, and humans do make mistakes.

Take Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's selection of an Inner Harbor East property a mile away from the Baltimore Convention Center as the best site for a new convention hotel. In a bind to get a big, new hotel built by 2000 for conventions that otherwise won't come here, Mr. Schmoke chose from among three poor sites for a convention hotel.

That never should have happened. It did because people who should have known better constructed a $151 million addition to the Convention Center without including in that project a new hotel large enough to help attract conventions to the expanded facility.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer in 1993 did get the legislature to agree to fund two-thirds of the Convention Center expansion cost. But when the Swirnow Group failed to build a proposed medical mart and 1,000-room hotel near the center, no one else came forth to fill the lodging need.

People must have naively thought that just building the impressive Convention Center addition would attract another developer who would build a hotel near it. It didn't. So, Baltimore doesn't have a real convention hotel and it has lost convention bookings to cities that do.

Facing that reality, Mr. Schmoke last year directed the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corp. to find someone who would build a convention hotel.

BDC said it wouldn't make a recommendation until it received a study of the city's hotel needs being done by Legg Mason Realty Group. The study, completed in November but kept under wraps, said what was already known. The city needs a 1,000-room hotel near the Convention Center.

None of the three proposals received by BDC, however, was for the two available sites closest to the Convention Center -- city-owned parking lot 6-A and the former McCormick & Co. headquarters now owned by Rouse Co. Instead of rejecting the three inadequate proposals, BDC recommended and Mr. Schmoke accepted plans by bakery mogul John Paterakis Sr. to have a 900-room Inner Harbor East hotel built a mile from the Convention Center.

Eligible for tax breaks

That idea is so clearly contrary to what the Convention Center needs that Mr. Schmoke was accused of letting the political contributions of Mr. Paterakis sway him. But the mayor has insisted the Inner Harbor East site is good, pointing out that it is in a federal Empowerment Zone and will be eligible for tax breaks.

Although not admitting a mistake was made, Mr. Schmoke did signal some misgivings about his Inner Harbor East decision by later supporting a deal that would have Mr. Paterakis build a smaller hotel while allowing an 800-room hotel to be built closer to the Convention Center by New York developer Harvey Schulweis.

No agreement was reached, so the plans of Mr. Schulweis for a hotel in the old News American building are comatose, for now.

Meanwhile Orioles owner Peter Angelos has re-entered the picture. Last year he was developing a proposal to put a hotel on Lot 6-A, but abandoned the idea because he didn't like what architects had designed for the tight space near Camden Yards.

However, criticism of the Paterakis hotel for being too far away has prompted Mr. Angelos to have architects look at the parking lot again. A spokesman says Mr. Angelos is simply trying to fill needs that the more distant Paterakis hotel, if built, would not.

Mr. Schmoke says he sees it that way, too, which makes you wonder why he didn't try harder to find a Lot 6-A developer before.

Harold Jackson writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 3/22/97

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