THE BALTIMORE City Council intended to roll over and play dead rather than oppose a misconceived plan to build a convention hotel a mile away from the Convention Center. But the tremendous outcry against the proposal that dominated a public hearing Thursday night should have shaken the council from its lethargy.
This monster edifice is not what people want. It's the council's job to make sure the hotel, in its current configuration, is not stuffed down Baltimoreans' throats.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and developer John Paterakis Sr. have made a case for building a hotel on the bakery mogul's property in Inner Harbor East -- but not one of this size. They have offered nothing that would convince any citizen with common sense that a distant hotel is the tonic for a struggling Convention Center. The city needs a hotel that would help improve convention bookings -- not one a mile away.
The anger evident at the council hearing should dispel the impression left by some Little Italy merchants and restaurant owners that there is little public opposition. Those who selfishly see the value of having a hotel so near their businesses won't admit that the oversized, isolated Inner Harbor East hotel would actually hurt Convention Center bookings, competing with the quarter-billion-dollar state structure for mid-sized meetings that could use the hotel's own convention facilities.
Critics of the Paterakis hotel at the public hearing wore red and black badges with the words, "Why Plan?" In other words, why did the city spend years putting together an Inner Harbor East Urban Renewal Plan only to ignore its restrictions on building height and hotel size?
The 48-story, 750-room Paterakis hotel would shatter both limits. It would also require dismantling some of the $20 million in infrastructure that resulted from the plan just seven years ago.
Mr. Schmoke says the urban renewal plan was meant only as a guide. But to participants of the lengthy planning process that's like saying the Bill of Rights is just a list of suggestions.
Flexibility was intended, but the urban renewal concepts were supposed to be followed, not swept aside. A scaled-down Inner Harbor East hotel in keeping with the urban renewal plan ought to be discussed, especially if Orioles owner Peter Angelos wins the right to build a Grand Hyatt next to the Convention Center.
A recent poll of council members indicated most were ready to go along with the Inner East Harbor East proposal, despite a huge public subsidy of over $50 million. Yet given the inadequacies of the proposed Paterakis hotel, that just isn't acceptable.
What happened at the public hearing should energize the council to oppose the mayor on this issue. This process began last year with a request for proposals to build a hotel that would boost the Convention Center. The Inner Harbor East hotel could achieve the opposite. The council should not allow the public's precious tax dollars to be squandered.
Pub Date: 11/10/97
HD : Listen to the people: Convention hotel: City Council can't ignore outcry against Inner Harbor East proposal.