Wyndham has strong council backing Debate has swirled around proposed hotel

October 30, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Despite the debate over whether Baltimore should build a 48-story hotel a mile from the Convention Center, City Council members overwhelmingly are lining up in favor of the proposal.

Council members say the issues surrounding the proposed Wyndham hotel at Inner Harbor East are creating little concern in most of the communities they represent. Except for the neighborhoods closest to the planned hotel, such as Fells Point and Canton, the proposal is generating almost no opposition, they say.

"It's not even a big issue in community meetings, hardly a ripple," said Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo, who represents the district where the Wyndham would be built.

The city Planning Commission recommended Monday that the council pass the controversial plan.

The only question, council members say, is how quickly they will approve it. Because Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has pushed hard for the proposal, he wants speedy approval. But some council members say they might not approve it until early next year because the council will recess in early December for several weeks.

"Do I think there are votes in this council to stop this proposal dead in its tracks? No," said Councilman Martin O'Malley, who represents northeastern Baltimore. "When the mayor of this city invests as much into making this project happen, it's going to happen."

The proposal has sparked months of furor among some state elected officials and neighborhood groups, specifically in Fells Point and Canton, who say the proposed hotel is too costly, too large or too far from the newly expanded Convention Center.

The council has scheduled hearings next month on financing, land use and development issues related to the proposal.

Public subsidies sought

The council must decide whether to approve Schmoke's proposal to give the hotel more than $50 million in public subsidies.

The Wyndham contract calls for the $132.6 million hotel to be financed in part with $47 million in bonds, a $5 million grant from the city and a $5 million low-interest loan of undetermined source.

Before construction could begin, the council would have to change land-use laws so that developers could reconfigure parcels of land and exceed a building height limit.

Though Schmoke has been pushing hard for the hotel proposal, council members say, he has not pressured them for support. But they add that he has no need to do so.

"After all the dust settles and people see the real issue that's facing the city, I think there will be a lot of support for this proposal," D'Adamo said.

John L. Cain is the one council member who has publicly opposed the hotel proposal.

"I may be the only one who is going to vote against this," said Cain, one of three council members who represent the area where the Wyndham would be built.

Amendments planned

Because he heads no committees involved with the hotel proposal, Cain has little power to stop it. But he plans to introduce amendments that could in effect could force council members to take sides over details.

Two of the amendments would require the developer to pay for new streets, another would prohibit casinos and other gambling, and another would preserve a monument near the proposed site.

Council members probably will look to a few key members for direction before voting. O'Malley, West Baltimore Councilwoman Agnes Welch and East Baltimore's Lois Garey, chairwoman of the Land Use Committee, are likely to take the lead on the proposal. Each heads a committee that could hold up approval of the proposal.

All three have said they will wait until their committees' public hearings before deciding whether to support the proposal.

"To me, there are pros and cons on this site, and I will look at them strictly on that basis, without emotional issues involved," Garey said. "Some of the pros have to do with location as the only true waterfront hotel in Baltimore and the renaissance of some of the East Baltimore area. On the downside of this proposal, there are traffic issues and there are height issues that need to be looked at."

Amid the debate about the hotel proposal, the council has been uncharacteristically quiet.

"I feel totally out of the loop on this thing," O'Malley said.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III has tried to spark council members' interest. Two weeks ago, he scheduled a meeting with state officials and council members to discuss the hotel proposal, but the meeting was sparsely attended by council members.

"The bottom line is that we need this hotel to draw conventions to Baltimore," said Northwest Baltimore Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector. "At this point, I'm inclined to say that we must do what we must do to develop a hotel on this site. It is time to move forward."

Pub Date: 10/30/97

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