Don't extend hotel deadline Paterakis site: If developers fail to meet conditions on time, mayor must look elsewhere.

April 19, 1997

THE CLOCK is ticking. Experts say it will take 28 to 30 months to build the major hotel Baltimore must have to keep its newly expanded Convention Center from failing. Without the hotel by 2000, the Convention Center could lose millions of dollars in customers who would otherwise come here. To meet the 2000 deadline, construction must begin this year. Yet the city waits.

A group led by bakery mogul John Paterakis Sr. has been given until June 30 to meet conditions that would allow it to enter into an exclusive contract with the city to develop a hotel on an Inner Harbor East site it owns. There is great concern that Mr. Paterakis can't meet those conditions, including having in hand a pact with a major hotel company willing to operate his facility. It also remains questionable as to whether the Paterakis group can obtain the private financing that must be added to public funds ** to pay for this project.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said Thursday that he wouldn't extend the deadline given to Mr. Paterakis. He must keep that pledge. And not just to clear the air of suggestions that it was Mr. Paterakis' past benevolence to Schmoke political campaigns that got his hotel proposal this far. More important than that is survival of the Convention Center. Taxpayers spent $150 million to expand it, but without a nearby major hotel it is having a hard time attracting the large conventions needed to make it viable.

Mr. Schmoke also should pledge not to restart the bidding process to find another developer who can build a hotel by 2000. He has already received proposals from the only three parties that were interested in such a project. A fourth, Orioles owner Peter Angelos, is looking at land next to the Convention Center that he earlier rejected as a hotel site. But it appears that he is too far behind in developing his idea to get a hotel built in three years.

The best alternative if the Paterakis group fails is to reconsider the Schulweis Realty Co. partnership with Westin hotels. Its proposal to put an 800-room hotel on the old News-American site much closer to the Convention Center is far more detailed than Mr. Paterakis' plan. Funding sources are in place; Westin has designed and would run the hotel. Before committing to the Schulweis proposal, however, questions about inadequate parking at that site would have to be answered.

The Paterakis property, more than a mile away, is too distant to help the Convention Center. If that group can't meet its deadline, the city should move swiftly to shift its support to a closer site. The key is to get the hotel built quickly. Extending the deadline would only make a bad decision worse.

Pub Date: 4/19/97

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