Panel hears mayor defend his hotel plan Project would spur Inner Harbor East growth, senators told

'Great economic benefit'

Disputed proposal gets warmer reaction than it did in House

September 25, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke received a sympathetic hearing from state legislators yesterday as he defended his plan to back development of a hotel east of the Inner Harbor rather than at a site closer to the city's Convention Center.

In the first Annapolis hearing on the contentious issue, Schmoke told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee that the Wyndham hotel proposed for Inner Harbor East would spur development on that side of downtown.

"I believe it will yield great economic benefit to our city, the state and our convention business," Schmoke said. He said he is confident that he can satisfy legislators of the proposal's prudence and that he can overcome any opposition in the General Assembly.

Schmoke found a much warmer reception for his plan among senators yesterday than he has in the House of Delegates, where a key lawmaker said this week that he would push legislation designed to block the Inner Harbor East proposal.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and other delegates have said the next downtown hotel needs to be closer to the Convention Center to help protect the state's $100 million investment in the center's recent expansion.

But another Baltimore Democrat, Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the Budget Committee chairwoman, expressed support for Schmoke's position and said she would be reluctant to intervene in a local matter.

The city gave a group headed by Baltimore bakery magnate John Paterakis the go-ahead this year to build a 750-room, $132 million hotel on the Inner Harbor East site.

Schmoke has defended the Paterakis proposal but has amended his stance to say that the city could absorb two new hotels downtown by 2002, one at Inner Harbor East and one closer to the Convention Center.

Senators refrained from criticizing Schmoke's handling of the issue yesterday and generally reacted favorably to the Paterakis proposal. "As a development, it's a good idea," Hoffman said. "I think we ought to develop the Inner Harbor East."

Hoffman said later that the hotel issue was a local matter, not one for the General Assembly to decide. "The choice has been made," she said. "It's essentially out of our hands."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's Democrat, concurred, calling the issue "primarily a local zoning matter."

Rawlings, who has sharply criticized the mayor's position, said Monday that when the assembly convenes in January, he will submit legislation that would limit the size of any hotel built at Inner Harbor East.

The legislation would halt the state's $3.7 million annual contribution to offsetting the Convention Center's operating deficit if a hotel built on that site exceeded 350 rooms.

In addition to members of the Paterakis team, two other development groups interested in building downtown hotels appeared at yesterday's hearing.

A group headed by New York developer Harvey Schulweis described its proposal for a hotel on the site where the Baltimore News American building stood, on Pratt Street near Harborplace.

A team headed by Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos is preparing a proposal to develop a hotel on a site just west of the Convention Center, near Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The deadline for development proposals for that city-owned site is being pushed back a month, to Nov. 7, Schmoke said.

The delay was needed after the Baltimore Development Corp., which is overseeing development of the site, amended its solicitation to encourage bidders to increase the participation of minorities in their proposals.

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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