Council reduces hotel's height City lawmakers take stand in favor of Inner Harbor East inn

Funding could be a barrier

41 stories, not 48

gambling prohibited for next 25 years

December 05, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

In a move that had been cleared earlier with the developers, the Baltimore City Council gave preliminary approval yesterday for a shorter, wider Wyndham Hotel to be built at Inner Harbor East.

The hotel would tower about 41 stories above the city instead of the 48 that the developers had sought.

The council also passed amendments that would prevent gambling at the Wyndham for the next 25 years and give itself oversight for any major changes to the hotel.

"If we continuously send a message to the business community that this is a difficult place to do business, we will not flourish," said West Baltimore Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, who voted for the changes to the hotel.

The council's action means that they have put themselves on the same side, at least temporarily, as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who touts the hotel as downtown's most important development since Harborplace.

Up to now, the council has not shown a consensus on whether the members even wanted a hotel to be built in the city to complement the newly expanded convention center.

However, that tentative alliance will be tested when the mayor comes back to the council for approval of the financing package that will detail how much of the construction should be paid for with public money.

Some key members of the council said they will withhold their support of the hotel if construction needs to be subsidized with either city loans, grants or parking revenue bonds.

A finance package is due to the council by early February.

Schmoke said earlier yesterday it is extremely likely that the package would include a parking revenue bond.

Hotel developers, led by local bakery mogul John Paterakis Sr., told the city in July that they would need about $50 million in public subsidies -- including $20 million for parking.

Michael S. Beatty, chief negotiator for the developers, said yesterday that the amount needed in public subsidies is no longer as high as $50 million, but he declined to mention an amount.

Martin O'Malley, chairman of the council's taxation and finance committee, is threatening to bottle up the hotel's approval in his committee if the mayor's financing package asks the council to give any grants, loans or parking revenue bonds.

Several council members said last night that they backed O'Malley, including President Lawrence A. Bell III, Lois Garey, Stephanie Rawlings, Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr.

O'Malley has refused to schedule a public hearing for an administration-sponsored bill introduced Nov. 3 that aims to increase the city's limit on issuance of parking revenue bonds from $150 million to $225 million.

The Schmoke administration wants the increase partly to help pay for construction of the Wyndham.

"I think it is a serious problem," said M. J. "Jay" Brodie, the Baltimore Development Corporation president, who is Schmoke's chief hotel negotiator.

"I don't know of another form of city assistance that can be brought to bear."

But Schmoke said yesterday that he thinks he can forge a deal with the council over the financing package.

"We are going to try to accommodate all the interests we can, but there are going to have to be some compromises," he said.

The council members also viewed their preliminary approval of the hotel yesterday as a compromise between the business community that wanted a large towering hotel and nearby residents who wanted a smaller one or no hotel at all.

The compromise was forged by Garey, the council's Land Use tTC Committee chairwoman.

But detractors said yesterday that the council action was no compromise.

"We're not going to give up until there is a bulldozer in the ground," said Carolyn Boitnott, president of the Waterfront Coalition of nearby neighborhood groups, which has fought to stop the hotel.

"And some of us may get in front of the bulldozer if it comes to that."

Of the 18 council members present, three voted against the hotel -- Northwest Baltimore's Rawlings and Helen L. Holton, and John L. Cain, who represents East and Southeast Baltimore. Mitchell of West Baltimore abstained, and fellow district Councilwoman Agnes B. Welch was absent.

Among several amendments on the Wyndham bill, the council reduced the capacity of the hotel garage from 800 to 600 spaces.

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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