Saying a convention headquarters hotel is essential to protect taxpayers' investment in the Baltimore Convention Center, state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon has strongly urged Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to pave the way for a huge Grand Hyatt hotel that would be connected to the expanded center.
Though Schmoke's choice of a publicly subsidized, 750-room Wyndham a mile from the Convention Center has unleashed considerable criticism, Dixon is the most powerful public figure yet to call specifically for the Grand Hyatt.
In his letter to Schmoke, Dixon wrote: "I am very supportive of insuring that the state's $100 million investment [in the center's expansion] pays dividends to the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland It appears the 800- to 1,000-room Grand Hyatt to be proposed by [Orioles majority owner] Peter Angelos is by far the best proposal."
Schmoke, responding in a letter Dixon received yesterday, said he would "carefully evaluate" the Hyatt proposal when it is filed and give the treasurer's concerns "serious consideration." The plan is expected to be submitted early next week.
Dixon, a 13-year General Assembly veteran whom the legislature overwhelmingly elected treasurer in January 1996, said yesterday he intends to keep the pressure on and attempt to garner wider support for the Hyatt.
"As the state's treasurer, I have a moral imperative to protect the state's investment, the taxpayers' investment in the convention center," Dixon said. "We have more than $100 million sunk in the expansion alone, and I want to see it be successful, and having a convention hotel across the street, connected by covered walkway, is what we need to do that."
The long-time stock broker played a key role in approving the financing for the state's share of the $151 million expansion.
As treasurer, Dixon manages and invests state money, administers bond sales and represents lawmakers on the Board of Public Works, which awards billions of dollars in state contracts.
If requested state hotel subsidies include bonds, the board could play a pivotal role. The board also includes the state comptroller and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who could not be reached yesterday.
Dixon's appeal to Schmoke comes at a crucial juncture in the process of adding hotel rooms to serve the convention center.
Timing is critical, as building both hotels without at least a few years separating opening dates would likely glut the market and risk a devastating downturn in occupancy, the mayor, hotel analysts and the developers agree.
Both the Wyndham and Hyatt development groups seek tens of millions in a combination of city and state subsidies. Which receives public money and begins work first could well play a big role in determining the size and timetable for construction of the other.
The city is expected to entertain proposals from other developers for the parking lots at Camden Yards, just north of Oriole Park, after receiving and beginning review of the Grand Hyatt proposal, Schmoke said.
But before issuing a request for proposals, Schmoke said, the city expects to complete negotiations by the June 30 deadline with the Wyndham team, led by baking mogul John Paterakis.
Schmoke said he foresees no obstacles to moving forward with the Wyndham project and that he believed the development team would meet eight conditions the city had set.
The mayor repeated his view that Baltimore, with about 4,000 downtown hotel rooms, could sustain at least 2,000 more within the next five years. But he cautioned that if both hotels are built, they would have to be staggered to avoid a glut.
Schmoke's February choice of the Wyndham site, a mile from the convention center, drew widespread criticism and heightened fears that the lack of a headquarters hotel could turn the recent expansion of the Convention Center into a $151 million failure.
He acknowledged that criticism has intensified but said he believed the Wyndham would disprove critics' dire predictions. Gazing at a rendition of the hotel's sleek new design, Schmoke said at City Hall: "Maybe now I'm still mired in controversy, but I just believe that once this thing is up, it's built, it's landscaped, we finish the promenade, that this is going to be a major attraction for people.
"It is my hope that within the next few years, we will have built a facility connecting to the convention center, but we ought to do it in a way that is not glutting the market and do it in a way that adds value to the convention business."
But Schmoke faces increasing pressure among state lawmakers, 40 of whom toured potential hotel sites in early June, to build closer to the convention center.
"A lot of [General Assembly] members are raising questions about the choice that the mayor has made, and while I don't think any of us want to aggressively intervene in local decisions, we will be aggressive about protecting the state taxpayers' money," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
"The problem is everywhere I go, everyone I talk to has raised serious questions about this, and I think the issues are very legitimate. I just believe that we have a substantial public interest that I don't intend to let be jeopardized."
Pub Date: 6/21/97