Hotel's generous subsidy is City Council's real test

This Just In...

December 08, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

A few thousand words have been written about Big John Hotel, the Wyndham at Inner Harbor East. You know the mostly negative rap by now: It's too far from Baltimore's convention hub, it could become a casino some day, the financial deal is bad for the city and a windfall for John Paterakis and his partners, the hotel's scale violates the long-term development plan for the area. This endgame summation, one of many received by TJI, came in from a citizen named Donna Zebe:

"The greatest result of this is the loss of confidence and trust by citizens of this community in the ability of city government to represent us. This holds up to the harsh light of day the fact that if you are wealthy and politically well-connected you can cram down the throats of the citizens anything that you like."

That comment arrived before the City Council's surprising actions last week to lower height limits on Big John and to ban gambling at the hotel for at least 25 years. Give the council credit; it might not be as wimpy as we thought.

But what the council did last week was the easy part.

The city's next major hotel still will be built a mile from the Baltimore Convention Center with some kind of major taxpayer subsidy; $30 million is the latest amount being discussed.

That's the hard part for the council - taking cash out of this deal.

That there's any kind of public subsidy at all - the original proposal called for $50 million from taxpayers - is questionable, considering that six months after Big John opens, the multibillion-dollar Patriot American Hospitality Inc. will be the full owner. This company has been spending millions of dollars hither and yon to acquire more hotels and casinos. It needs a handout from Baltimore when so many other city needs go begging?

Here's just one thing to consider in that regard: Action for the Homeless points out that the government of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, so eager to give millions to the wealthy developers of this hotel, cut $100,000 from the city's Office of Homeless Services last summer. And already the city's shelters are turning people away because they're operating at capacity. No room at the inn.

A better teakettle

It sticks out against the sky by the Beltway in Towson, a 120-foot rise in the landscape once crowned by an appliance store operated by the "cheapest guy in town." Some know that place as Luskin's hill, now scheduled for redevelopment. But to bus loads of Baltimoreans and hungry highway travelers, it will always be affectionately remembered as Duff's (Smorgasbord) bluff. ... The Carroll County zoning board decided to add a road-sign contingency to its recent approval of a synagogue in Eldersburg. Board member Hoby Wolf suggested, "Shul Crossing." The proposal was taken under advisement. ... You know those oval stickers people put on their cars as a means of expressing national or ethnic pride? We spotted one the other day that completely puzzled us: "HUM." What's that? The Republic of Humidor? Somebody help us out here. ... Stella's, the chic little Italian cousin of Cafe Hon, 36th Street, Hampden, has reopened. ... Ah, but, the wrap party for John Waters' "Pecker" was held at Frazier's On The Avenue Wednesday night. Good time had by all - cast, crew , director and at least one guy in leather pants, no shirt and a nipple ring. ... If you haven't been for a while, check out Cylburn Arboretum during the holidays; the kids will love it. (And free cookies, too.) ... Cereal Mom swears she heard herself say this the other night: "I couldn't find a teakettle as good as the old one. The new ones, they've improved them until they're no good." ... And the same day a woman in Howard County was heard to say: "That's right, my husband was a bomber on B-52s near the Illusion Islands."

Breakfast for two

Do pregnant women really have cravings, or is that some old myth based on an "I Love Lucy" script?

A friend of TJI witnessed a convincer the other day at Joe's Deli in Westminster:

"A very pregnant, very regular customer came in and, instead of her usual breakfast request of the soup du jour - if it's ready that early, Joe usually obliges - she asked for two scrambled eggs and two pickles, sliced."

Lucy, I'm home!

Two bits for your thoughts

Did you see where, beginning in 1999, the U.S. Mint will produce five new quarters a year, each commemorating a state? It's a cool idea. George Washington's mug will remain on one side, but for 10 years, the American eagle will give way to designs developed by the states. The quarters will be produced in the order that the states ratified the Constitution. Maryland was seventh to ratify, so our coin will appear in the second year, 2000.

It's not too early to start thinking about the flip side of the Maryland quarter.

Keep in mind that the treasury secretary, who gets the final say, is directed by the law to avoid frivolous designs, depictions of living persons and portraits that would create a two-headed quarter.

So I guess that eliminates Spiro Agnew.

We're probably talking animals or plants.

I am volunteering to be the clearinghouse for designs for Maryland's quarter. Send them in. When I find out which state agency is handling this, I'll pass your nominations along.

Contact Dan Rodricks at TJIDAN; by post at 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278; or by voice mail at 410-332-6166.

Pub Date: 12/08/97

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