Council may put limits on hotel 2 key members seek restrictions on height, public financing

December 03, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

On the eve of a crucial City Council vote that could bring the proposed Wyndham Hotel one step closer to construction, two key council committee chairs are vowing to try to restrict the height of the building and limit the kind of public subsidies that are used.

Land Use Committee Chairwoman Lois Garey and Taxation and Finance Chairman Martin O'Malley, whose committees are in charge of critical legislation needed to approve the controversial $133 million hotel project at Inner Harbor East, want developers to agree to several stipulations, including:

Lowering the height of the hotel, which was planned to be the second-tallest building in Baltimore, by at least 100 feet or about 10 stories.

Financing the project with tax breaks -- no city loans, grants or bonds.

A 25-year moratorium on gambling.

Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said yesterday that he wouldn't back the project unless the developers agree to the stipulations.

"I see this as the council asserting itself," Bell said.

Tomorrow, the council is scheduled to vote on the first legislation that would allow the hotel to be built: amending a land-use plan for the Inner Harbor.

Originally, the bill proffered by the Schmoke administration called for a 750-room hotel towering 48 stories above the harbor.

Tomorrow, Garey, an East Baltimore councilwoman, wants to amend the Schmoke bill to restrict the type of machines allowed in the amusement area of the hotel to those for entertainment purposes only and require that any future changes in the plan be approved by the council. The council will vote on the amendments separately.

In coming weeks, the council will vote on what the hotel will look like, where it will be located and how much public financing can be used to support its construction.

Although the council appeared to be behind the hotel project weeks ago, this is the first sign that support may be eroding.

Council members say they finally are moving to shape the outcome of a hotel project that will become downtown's most important development since Harborplace. They say that the linchpin is not height and location, but money.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is a staunch proponent of the project, has yet to present the council with a finance package that details how much of the construction of the hotel will be paid for with public money.

"If the finance stuff doesn't fly, there won't be a hotel," said West Baltimore Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, a consistent Schmoke supporter. "This is the key piece for the council."

The Schmoke administration has not disclosed how the financing will be structured. The council expects to get the finance package by early February.

The Baltimore Development Corp., the city's chief economic agency, is brokering a deal with hotel developers, a team led by baking mogul John Paterakis Sr. BDC officials said they haven't sealed a deal yet.

"A timetable has not been set for completion of negotiations," said BDC spokeswoman JoAnn Logan.

But BDC officials this year said that a preliminary finance package could mean about $50 million in public subsidies, with a big chunk of the money coming from bonds and loans.

What O'Malley, Bell and Garey are trying to do with their list of demands is force the council's imprint on the negotiations before the critical finance package comes to the council for consideration.

Whether the council will back the three is up for debate. But many council members have said that their biggest problem with the proposed Wyndham is approving legislation that would give the developers money outright, such as a loan or grant.

"The financing piece hasn't come to light because they are working creatively to make it fly," said Northwest Baltimore Councilwoman Helen L. Holton. "If it's coming in a form that is asking for money, that has to be weighed against other significant projects in the city, like the renovation of the library system."

Schmoke says the hotel will serve the needs of the newly expanded Convention Center, near Camden Yards. He wants it built by 2000.

Although the proposed Wyndham is nearly a mile from the Convention Center, the mayor is banking on the hotel to spur more development in the Inner Harbor East area of the waterfront.

But critics have dogged Schmoke almost throughout the process.

They have said that the hotel is too far away to be of any use as a Convention Center hotel. Some have lambasted him for his willingness to spend up to $50 million in public subsidies to build the Wyndham.

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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