WHEN BALTIMORE'S Board of Estimates voted unanimously July 23 to approve construction of the $132.6 million, 750-room Wyndham Inner Harbor East Hotel, it took a critical step toward meeting the increased demand for additional hotel rooms in Baltimore. That demand has been spurred by the expansion of the Convention Center, as well as by the current and projected growth in the number of leisure and business travelers to Baltimore.
Now that the Board of Estimates has put its formal stamp of approval on the Wyndham Hotel project, I want to take this opportunity to explain the process that has led to the decision to locate a hotel in Inner Harbor East.
Here's how it evolved. Last September the Baltimore Development Corporation advertised a request for proposals, setting a November 15 deadline for responses that was later extended to December 13. No bids came in to build on the vacant lots west of the Convention Center, the site closest to the Convention Center.
This is a point I believe has been overlooked, and I consider it crucial. When the city sought proposals for a new downtown hotel through an open bid process, not one major hotel developer, indeed not one developer of any kind, bid to build on the city-owned lots west of the Convention Center. Not one. Experienced hotel developers obviously had serious questions about whether such a hotel could be profitable.
An open process
A second and related point is that there was a clear and open process leading to the hotel decision. It is essential to preserve the integrity of that process. We can't toss it aside simply because a new potential hotel developer later arrives on the scene. If we fail to follow our established procedures, for a new hotel or for any other project, we undermine local government's credibility among developers and possibly with anyone else wishing to do business with the city.
The choice of the Wyndham Inner Harbor East Hotel was not made arbitrarily or capriciously. It followed careful, thorough and deliberate review. Here is why I believe this choice is such a good one for our city.
Baltimore's strength from a tourism and economic-development viewpoint quite clearly is the waterfront. With its many attractions, activities and amenities, the Inner Harbor is a spectacular draw for visitors and residents alike. The excitement of the Inner Harbor is already spreading eastward, as seen by such developments as the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe in the Power Plant entertainment complex; the relocation of Sylvan Learning Systems headquarters; the anticipated opening of the Port Discovery Children's Museum at Market Place, and the extension of the waterfront promenade as far east as Canton.
The Wyndham Hotel will help accelerate this eastward momentum, providing a major boost to what many are calling Baltimore's ''Second Renaissance.''
The new hotel also will be a major stimulus to the city's overall economic development. Its location in our Empowerment Zone will further our job-creation efforts there. The Baltimore Development Corporation estimates that the construction phase of the hotel will generate more than 2,300 jobs, and that a significant number of those hired will be city residents. Once the hotel is opened in the spring of 2000, some 1,150 hotel and spinoff jobs are anticipated.
The BDC further estimates that the new hotel will generate about $2.6 million in annual taxes for the city, and about $2 million for the state. Moreover, the development agency projects that the city can anticipate a 14 percent return on its investment by the fifth year of the hotel's operation, and a 28 percent return by the 10th year.
In addition, with a leading minority construction company (J.J. Russell) as a key partner and with the development team committed to exceed the city's minority-owned and women-owned businesses goals, the project will enhance our efforts to promote inclusion and equal opportunity in the city's economic arena.
Hotel and Convention Center
Let me turn, finally, to the question of the relationship of the Wyndham Hotel to the Convention Center, which has become such a contentious issue. In my view, the hotel will indeed serve to support the Convention Center, but its importance lies beyond that. Studies show that even hotels linked to convention centers generate only about 50 percent of their bookings from the convention trade. Because of its appealing waterside location and the nearby attractions of not only the Inner Harbor but also Little Italy and Fells Point, the Wyndham Hotel is bound to be a draw whether a convention is in town or not.
The argument that the hotel is too far away to serve as a convention hotel has been overplayed. Even those hotels that are close to the Convention Center provide bus shuttle service to the facility for their guests. The Wyndham Hotel would be doing nothing unusual when it does the same.