WITH MAYOR Kurt L. Schmoke declaring "the Inner Harbor East Wyndham is the best hotel for Baltimore at this time," the Board of Estimates unanimously approved a new publicly subsidized, $132 million hotel complex south of Little Italy yesterday. But the mayor is wrong. Baltimore can do better.
The Inner Harbor East project not only violates existing city laws, but requires voter approval for its financing and is so off the beaten path that its location has been criticized by professional meeting planners.
The project could be derailed by the City Council (which has to change the urban renewal restrictions) or Baltimore voters, who must approve bonds issued with the expectation that increased property taxes generated by the project would cover the debt.
The Schmoke administration said yesterday it will ask the General Assembly to void the requirement for a referendum by Baltimore voters. In doing so, the mayor is taking a big political risk. His chances of success are doubtful.
Growing numbers of state legislators have expressed skepticism about the viability of the Wyndham hotel site. Their worry is that its location a mile away from the Convention Center will do nothing to bolster the lagging bookings of the facility, which was recently expanded at a cost of $151 million to state taxpayers.
Recognizing the difficulties, Mayor Schmoke decided to forgo state subsidies he had initially wanted for the hotel proposed by bakery magnate John Paterakis. But in asking legislators to cancel the referendum requirement, he is seeking from state politicians -- many of whom are already hostile to city interests -- a favor on a controversial issue that he may not get in an election year.
In short, Baltimore's quest for a hotel to support the Convention Center remains a mess, thanks to questionable decisions -- including the bad initial site choice by Mayor Schmoke and the Baltimore Development Corp.
BDC will now seek proposals for two city-owned lots next to the Convention Center. Orioles owner Peter Angelos has an inside track with his plan to build an 850-room hotel there. His bond financing, though, would have some of the same complications as the Inner Harbor East hotel. In the end, Baltimore may not get any of the additional hotel rooms by 2000 that are needed to rescue the Convention Center.
The situation is dire and warrants re-examination of all options. They include Schulweis Realty's proposal for a 44-story Westin Hotel, connected by walkway to the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel next door, on the former site of the News American on Pratt Street, which is now a parking lot. Although earlier rejected by BDC, this proposal has two undeniable advantages -- uncomplicated financing requirements and a location close to the Convention Center.
Pub Date: 7/24/97