Downtown hotel plan is raising questions Effect of proposal on skyline, new park among considerations

April 03, 1997|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos' proposal to build a full-fledged convention hotel north of Camden Yards may be just what the nearby Convention Center needs to increase bookings, but how would it affect the picturesque view of the city skyline from Oriole Park?

And how would construction of a large hotel affect the Maryland Stadium Authority's plans to create a public park north of historic Camden Station?

Those are just two of the urban design questions raised by Angelos' recent disclosure to Baltimore Development Corp. that he's preparing a proposal to build a 900- to 1,200-room hotel using two city-owned parking lots just north of Oriole Park.

Depending on where they sit, fans can see the Bromo Seltzer Tower, the 250 W. Pratt St. office building, the NationsBank tower and other landmarks on the city skyline.

The view provides a constant reminder to fans that the ballpark is in the heart of the Orioles' hometown, rather than out on an interstate somewhere. A tall building in the wrong location could tTC ruin it. And even a relatively low building just north of Camden Station could block views of the 1857 terminal for those headed east on Pratt Street.

Tom Marudas, a representative for the Orioles' lead owner, said no renderings are available to show exactly how a hotel might rise on the lots bounded by Camden, Howard, Pratt and Paca streets, or how it might affect sightlines to and from Oriole Park.

Marudas indicated that a preliminary image of the hotel most likely would be presented to the city as part of a detailed proposal, which Angelos has promised to submit within a month.

A second look

He added that Angelos is "very sensitive" to aesthetic issues involving Camden Yards, including the heights of neighboring buildings and the views they might block.

He explained that Angelos backed off from an earlier proposal to build a large hotel north of Camden Street because he was uncomfortable with his architects' initial designs.

But Angelos took another look at the property and believes the design issues can be addressed without marring the ballpark or the train station, Marudas said.

The Maryland Stadium Authority recently hired RTKL Associates investigate the possibility of creating a public park with a garage underneath on Lot 7A, the block immediately north of Camden Station.

Chairman John A. Moag Jr. has said he would like to build a "traditional urban park" to preserve views of the restored Camden Station from Pratt Street, the city's main east-west boulevard. The 1857 train station is scheduled for conversion over the next several years to a baseball-oriented museum called the Babe Ruth Baseball Center.

Moag said the architects have determined that a three-level garage holding 600 to 800 cars could be constructed beneath street level, with a park above. He said stadium authority representatives met recently with Baltimore Development Corp. planners and were encouraged to submit a firm proposal for that property, which the authority will do soon. BDC, a quasi-public agency, oversees city redevelopment efforts.

Asked how a high-rise hotel might affect the proposed park, Moag was unclear.

"At this point in time, because his proposal seems very exploratory in nature, it would seem not to have, and has not had, any impact on our discussions with the city -- although that could change," he said yesterday.

A 1,200-room hotel could cost in excess of $200 million and would rise 30 stories or more. For city planners, the first issue will be deciding whether to review or reject an unsolicited proposal from Angelos. BDC President M. Jay Brodie said that would be a procedural decision for the BDC board and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to make.

If the BDC decides to entertain Angelos' proposal, the biggest design issue would be where a large building should be constructed: on Lot 7A (the parcel bounded by Howard, Pratt, Eutaw and Camden streets), on Lot 6A (bounded by Eutaw, Pratt, Paca and Camden streets), on both lots or on neither.

Renewal plan as guide

Brodie said the city would be guided by the urban renewal plan already in place for the area, which is zoned for high-rise commercial development. But he said other factors, such as sightlines from the seating bowl of Oriole Park, also would come into play.

Schmoke announced this year that he supports a plan for a $112.2 million hotel in the Inner Harbor East area over proposals for two other hotels that would have been closer to the Convention Center.

The decision contradicted the findings of a city-commissioned hotel study, which recommended that a full-fledged convention hotel be close to the Convention Center on the west side of town.

In the Camden Yards area, a large hotel on Lot 6A would not block as many ballpark or train station views as one on Lot 7A. A moving sidewalk like those in airports could shorten the distance people would have to walk to the Convention Center. Lot 7A could be a park that would double as a forecourt for the hotel.

Marudas said those are the sorts of issues that Angelos and his architects, the Wiehe Partnership, have been studying. "There are lots of possibilities," he said.

HCFA considered site

A tall building would have been constructed by now on Lot 6A if the federal government had decided to build a new headquarters for the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration downtown.

Several years ago, Stubbins Associates of Cambridge, Mass., designed an office tower for HCFA that would have been constructed on Lot 6A. The federal government chose instead to build in Baltimore County, but the design exercise showed that a tall building could be constructed on 6A without obliterating views from Oriole Park.

Pub Date: 4/03/97

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