Tycoon lodges a protest about downtown hotels

This Just In . . .

September 19, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

Harvey Schulweis, the heavy hitter from New York in Baltimore's downtown hotel game, doesn't like sitting on the bench. He's glum about it. "Not much amuses me these days," he says from his 50th-floor office on West 57th Street, which goes to show that even millionaire real estate tycoons can get a little blue in the gills.

Schulweis has a good location for a hotel here -- the old News American site on Pratt Street across from the World Trade Center -- but he's been knocked out of the action because of our mayor's lame decision to subsidize John Paterakis' hotel at Inner Harbor East, way south of Little Italy, about a mile from the Convention Center.

Schulweis' site looks about four blocks from the Convention Center.

Of course, Peter Angelos is in this game, too. Da Boss' proposal calls for a Grand Hyatt right across the street from the new Convention Center addition, near Camden Yards. To most reasonable people, Angelos' proposal makes the most sense for the city's next big hotel.

Schulweis, of course, disagrees. "What on its face may appear to be an ideal solution," he writes in a letter to TJI, "may, in fact, be a particularly poor one."

Here's his argument: While most of the world's English-speaking people agree that the Paterakis location is too far from the convention center, the Angelos location, says Schulweis, is too close; it can serve the convention trade, but not the Inner Harbor tourist trade. And that's key, he says.

Schulweis proposes a 800-room Westin Hotel at the epicenter of downtown tourism -- near the Inner Harbor -- and still a convenient walk to the Convention Center.

"A convention headquarters hotel must bring new nonconvention business to Baltimore to be successful," Schulweis writes on some of the finest stationery I've ever rubbed between my fingers. "Otherwise it will be forced to offer blocks of rooms at deep discounts to compete with existing hotels for business that already exists."

Look at other cities, he says. "In San Francisco, visitors want to be on Union Square or on Nob Hill, not near the Moscone Convention Center, especially if they are not part of the group using the convention center. In New York, visitors want to be in Times Square or on Fifth Avenue, not near the Javits Convention Center. In Baltimore, visitors want to be on the Inner Harbor."

Schulweis claims that a Westin Hotel at his location can be built and opened for business by 1999 -- at least a year sooner than the Paterakis or Angelos proposals -- and with less public subsidy than the other two hotels would need. "We are prepared to proceed with the development of the hotel with only a real estate tax abatement and minimal additional funding from the state."

This is Harvey Schulweis' spin on things, of course. It might sound like just a bunch of loser grumbles from the bench. He's probably not used to having splinters in his pants. And he's a New Yorker.

But don't forget this, friends: Schulweis' site was one that most impressed the city's economic development staff and its chairman, the city's convention bureau and an expert panel appointed to study hotel proposals. The mayor, of course, rejected that recommendation and went with the politically connected Paterakis deal at Inner Harbor East.

Fortunately, that deal still faces some challenges -- in the City Council, with voters. So, this game ain't over. Cheer up, Harv.

Getting serious about Magoo

I have a growing stack of reader mail on "the Mr. Magoo column" (TJI, July 4). As I mentioned some weeks ago, the letters were angry, bordering on hateful, and about half of them were profane. Every now and then, another communication on the subject arrives, freshening up the Magoo archives.

What I gather from all the blather is that it should be OK to make laughter from blindness or near blindness (Mr. Magoo), and anyone who thinks otherwise is just an uptight, politically correct with for brains.

"What's wrong with Little Black Sambo anyway?" asked a reader who was perplexed that, in calling for Disney to halt production of a Magoo movie starring Leslie Nielsen, the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind said the nearly blind cartoon character is as offensive to the blind as Sambo and Amos 'n' Andy are to blacks. Other readers, all male and all safely anonymous, described me with words they probably would not say to my face.

Take a chill pill, fellas.

All I said was that the rules of humor have changed for the better since the Goo Man was on TV some 30 years ago. It's a free country. You can still make fun of people based on things they can't control -- their race, ethnic origin, physical handicaps; just don't expect it to be widely accepted. In fact, you should probably expect it to be condemned.

Several readers pointed out that Mr. Magoo was nearsighted, not blind, and extremely vain; he could have improved his vision with eyeglasses, but he refused. Correct. But I don't think it's much of a point in the context of the NFB protest. Mr. Magoo's humor is based on a slapstick depiction of a confused man who can't see, who is essentially blind. It's laughter based on blindness. Disney can do better.

Don't worry, friends. There's still plenty to laugh at without laughing at handicaps.

The freebie that wasn't

Isn't it nice that a financial giant like NationsBank still appreciates loyal customers like Richard Crane? Every month or so, the bank sends Crane -- along with his credit card bill -- an offer for a gift of his choosing, some trinket, some small token of appreciation. It's NationsBank's way of saying thanks. And there's no obligation. Except the $3.95 charge to cover shipping.

Ah, there's always something.

Pub Date: 9/19/97

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