City May Be Breeding White Elephants

This Just In. . .

April 25, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

White Elephant. Scary thing that. The phrase popped up in a Sun story yesterday about Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's decision to support public subsidy of John Paterakis' hotel east of the Inner Harbor, nearly a mile from the Baltimore Convention Center. Lauren Kramer-Whelan, a meeting planner for the Society of Nuclear Medicine, said the organization canceled its plan to bring 7,000 delegates here in 2000 because the city lacks a major hotel within walking distance of the convention center.

"The cancellation," she said, "is proof that the Baltimore Convention Center expansion is a $151 million white elephant without the right hotel to support it."

Actually, we could be breeding two white elephants by investing millions in taxpayer dollars in Paterakis' plan for a 750-room hotel at Inner Harbor East, the opposite end of downtown Baltimore from the convention center.

It doesn't make sense, and people far more expert in the field than I say that.

Apparently such experts are no match for the mayor (and Larry Gibson, his consigliere).

The mayor says he has no second thoughts about backing the Paterakis proposal, and he's unfazed by the white elephant potential, a stance that would be easier to respect had this mayor earlier exhibited some grand and dynamic visions for the city.

Baltimore needs a centerpiece hotel - what the industry calls a headquarters hotel - within easy walking distance of the convention center. The Paterakis plan comes with all sorts of provisions for transporting thousands of guests across the harbor - water taxis in January and February; what a superb idea! - and along Pratt Street [See Rodricks, 5b] to get them to the convention center. But why get into all that sticky hoo-hah when we could simply subsidize a hotel that, with convenient proximity to Pratt and Howard streets, would be an integral part of a downtown convention complex?

Inner Harbor East is a good location for a hotel, but not a convention headquarters. I mean I duh!

To defend a decision that smells of political considerations, the mayor says he likes Paterakis' Inner Harbor East location because it lies within - and would create jobs within - the federal Empowerment Zone and because it would spread development toward Fells Point.

Red herrings both. People who live in a designated Empowerment Zone could still benefit from a megahotel in downtown Baltimore; the city's exclusive contract with a developer could have as a condition the hiring and training of a certain percentage of hotel workers from the Empowerment Zone.

And Fells Point? John Paterakis already has done his part to spark development in his part of town - first by keeping H&S Bakery there for so long, and second by masterminding Inner Harbor East, a $350 million community on a 20-acre waterfront parcel just south of Little Italy, between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point. The city already has given him financial breaks and payment deferrals worth several million dollars. The project is also being financed with a federal grant and some backing by the state.

If Paterakis wants a hotel over there, fine. Maybe he should get with Peter Angelos and build one to handle the overflow from a four-star convention hotel that someone else should build somewhere else - within easy walking distance of the convention center.

Police intrigue

Ah, to be a roach on the floor during the mayor's meeting with Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier over his suspension of Col. Ronald L. Daniel for alleged insubordination. Looks like Frazier really hurt himself, trying the strong-arm stuff on one of the most popular commanders in the Police Department.

Daniel is the guy a lot of line officers, black and white, would like to see replace Frazier. The timing of this palace intrigue is unfortunate, coming, as it does, just as the department posts good crime-reduction numbers. Those numbers gave Frazier strong standing, but it looks like he shot himself in the foot with the move on Daniel.

Celebrate kindness

Man, I just love the smell of mulch in the morning. ... It might be the feel-good event of the spring: The "Celebration of Kindness," tomorrow from 10 a.m. 'til 3 p.m. at Owings Mills mall. It's a salute to child care providers based in Baltimore County schools from the kids in their care. ... Up for howling at the moon? A poetry reading in memory of Allen Ginsberg starts tonight at 10 at Mencken's Cultured Pearl. ... I hear our new shortstop has moved into a house in Ruxton. ... Spotted Monday high above Deer Creek, Harford County: two ospreys with fresh hickory shad in their talons. ... Once upon a time in this town there was a phenomenal guy named Phil Easter. His brain was a vast warehouse of facts. Give him a date - any date in the 20th century, in particular - and he could tell you what happened on it. But what happened to Phil?

Coming Monday: Columnist clears name of nameless man, boy and baritone horn reunited. Watch this space ... Contact This Just In by voice mail at 410-332-6166, by e-mail at

TJIDAN@aol.com, or by post at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 4/25/97

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