Wyndham hotel plan divides area residents Many in Fells Point, Canton say project will ruin area's charm

More room for debate

Others, in Little Italy, say it will promote area and create jobs

October 06, 1997|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

As Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke tries to persuade legislators in Annapolis to support the proposed $137.6 million Wyndham Hotel, many residents of the historic waterfront communities that would lie in its shadow are casting a cynical eye on the development.

Nothing has escaped their scrutiny.

Not the design. Not the location. Not the financing.

And though residents of Little Italy, Fells Point and Canton have reviewed the same blueprints and listened to the same presentations on the hotel that baking mogul John S. Paterakis Sr. wants to build in Inner Harbor East, they have emerged from citywide meetings on the proposal with very different views.

In Little Italy, an ethnic enclave where community leaders are often at odds with one another, residents have apparently put their differences aside to overwhelmingly support construction of the Wyndham -- a position contrary to that of their neighbors to the east, in Fells Point and Canton.

"I think it's a beautiful building that's going to bring more business, more activity, more tourists to Baltimore," said Little Italy resident Mary Ann Campanella. "It's going to promote the entire east side of the harbor."

But in Fells Point and Canton, neighborhoods that have been beset by development in the past decade, many residents said that the 750-room hotel would not benefit their communities.

"It would make sense to build a smaller hotel there, but it makes no sense to have a huge, self-contained hotel like this one," said Bud Billings of Fells Point, citing the many shops, restaurants and bars planned for the Wyndham. "People will go into the hotel and never come out. They won't spend their money in the antique shops in Fells Point or the restaurants in Little Italy; they'll disappear into the building."

According to a 23-page glossy brochure distributed at community meetings by Michael Beatty, development director for Paterakis' H & S Properties Inc., the Wyndham would include "multiple waterfront restaurants with outdoor dining," an indoor pool, a retail pantry and several lounges and bars.

Beatty repeatedly has said developers are planning to break ground on the hotel at the intersection of President and Lancaster streets in March, making it sound like a done deal. But the project is subject to the approval of the City Council, leaving the door open for more public debate.

Many residents have criticized the process by which the development team headed by Paterakis was given the go-ahead -- first by the Baltimore Development Corp., then by the mayor and the Board of Estimates. The project calls for a 45-story structure that is taller and bulkier than the city's urban design controls allow.

"There is an urban renewal plan in place that was totally ignored," said Carolyn Boitnott, an East Baltimore resident and member of the Waterfront Coalition, a citizens group that monitors waterfront development. "The mayor makes much of the process that the BDC established to award the bid, but he makes no mention of the urban renewal plan," which was adopted in May 1990 for Inner Harbor East and prohibits the construction of any structure taller than 180 feet on the waterfront.

The hotel would be 440 feet high, making it the city's second tallest building.

Schmoke's spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, would not comment the process by which the bid was awarded.

"We've been working very hard to gain as much support as we can for this project," Coleman said. "We are pleased to see support in Little Italy. We believe the more information people have, the more they will like it. We believe it's going to contribute in a positive fashion to the quality of life in that area,'' he said.

'Re-evaluate' proposals

"I don't see how our public officials can expect people to have confidence in their decision making abilities when they throw those plans out the window simply because it suits them," Boitnott said. "And now that we have two other hotels that want to provide the same service the Wyndham wants to provide, it seems to me that all three proposals should be re-evaluated."

A group headed by New York developer Harvey Schulweis is proposing to build a hotel where the Baltimore News American building stood, on Pratt Street near Harborplace. And a team headed by Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos wants to develop a hotel west of the Convention Center, near Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

With the kind of fighting words once reserved for the defunct East-West Expressway, many Fells Point and Canton residents have joined in opposing the Wyndham.

"The proposed hotel would be far too large for the area. It would loom over the communities east of the Inner Harbor," said Stephany Palasik, president of the Canton-Highlandtown Community Association. The 1,000-member group voted this summer to oppose development of the hotel.

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