How high the Wyndham hotel? Design: It was to be 32 stories, but architects have submitted proposals for the Wyndham hotel that would make it as tall as 50 stories.

Urban Landscape

October 09, 1997|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

THE WYNDHAM hotel proposed for Baltimore's Inner Harbor East renewal area, initially planned to rise 32 stories, might be as many as 50 stories tall.

During a meeting last week of Baltimore's Architectural Review Board, architects of the $132.6 million hotel presented four variations of the design, with heights ranging from 44 to 50 stories.

Any of the versions would make the hotel planned for President and Aliceanna streets one of the tallest buildings in downtown Baltimore. The 44-story version would be 459 feet. A 47-story building would be 485 feet. A 48-story building would be 494 feet, and a 50-story building would be 511 feet.

At present, Baltimore's tallest building is the 40-story Legg Mason Tower at Pratt and Charles streets (formerly the USF&G Tower), at 520 feet. The World Trade Center is 400 feet.

The hotel's proposed height was the subject of extensive debate among East Baltimore residents who gathered at a community forum last week. Some say a very tall building on President Street would help draw people to the area, and that would be good. Others contend that a tall building would violate the city's 180-foot height limit for the renewal area and would be out of scale with its neighbors.

The Schmoke administration has proposed legislation that would lift height limits in the Inner Harbor East area to permit construction of a tall building on the Wyndham site.

Of the four hotel designs presented to the review board Oct. 2, each building had a nine-story base containing parking, lobbies, meeting rooms and other common spaces. The difference was the height and shape of the towers containing the 750 guest rooms. The 44-story building had a 35-story guest-room tower, while the 50-story building had a 41-story guest-room tower. The 41-story tower was more slender in profile than the 35-story tower, because it had fewer rooms per floor.

At the meeting of the advisory groups, architects Pope Bullock of Cooper Carry Inc. and Peter Fillat of Beatty Harvey Fillat explained that the design team has been exploring different versions in an effort to come up with a suitable design for the waterfront site.

Bullock said the team was trying to create a tower that is "slim," "elegant," "glistening" and "beautiful," with "rich materials" and an architectural vocabulary that was both appropriate for Baltimore and based on a mixture of "recollection and invention." The review board members and other Baltimore Development Corp. representatives generally praised the planning effort and encouraged the design team to make the tower as elegant and crystalline as possible. They said adding floors wasn't necessarily bad if that made the guest-room tower more slender.

"It's going to be a high building," said BDC president M. Jay Brodie. "You have to accept it as a high building and treat it as a high building. A couple of feet doesn't make a difference."

To show the Wyndham hotel's potential impact on the Inner Harbor skyline, architects with the Urban Design Committee of Baltimore's American Institute of Architects chapter have prepared an "impact study" containing photo montages that depict possible views from various vantage points.

One shows the view from the western shore of the Inner Harbor, with a 450-foot hotel tower rising above the Marine Mammal Pavilion and the Pier 6 concert tent. Another shows the hotel next to the Eastern Avenue pumping station. Images were prepared by AIA members based on information released by the developers last summer and don't reflect the latest design changes. Copies of the study are available from the AIA office at 11 1/2 W. Chase St., 410-625-2585.

Klaus Philipsen, a member of the AIA's Urban Design Committee, said the group tried to present the information in a neutral way, so viewers can form their own opinions. "They can say, 'We love it. This is what we want built.' Or they can say, 'We don't like it,' " he said. "We don't want to sway anybody in a particular direction."

However, Philipsen went on to say, "We are concerned that an isolated high-rise in this location has an undesirable urban design impact. The Inner Harbor East urban renewal plan was based on [architect Stan Eckstut's] vision that all the buildings would form an ensemble, not compete with each other This building is not forming an ensemble. We can't see how other buildings will relate to it. That's the concern here."

He added, "We think that the original concept has a lot of merit because it does what it was supposed to do -- create a transition between downtown and Fells Point. But one landmark building that says, 'Hey, look at me , I'm the biggest,' isn't doing that. It's not making a transition. It's not creating an ensemble. It's not making Inner Harbor East into a neighborhood."

Philipsen conceded that a tall building serves the developers' purposes, because it calls attention to the hotel.

"When you look at it from the developers' point of view, it makes perfect sense," he said. "They want people to see it. No one disputes that. But we're not arguing the developers' point. We're trying to ask: What is best for the city? We're trying to look out for the common good."

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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