Santa, give us a convention hotel City's dilemma: Convention business cannot be maximized without more rooms nearby.

December 22, 1997

COMPETITORS ARE laughing at Baltimore's clumsy attempts to increase hotel capacity. While Philadelphia rushes to add hotel rooms next to its expanded convention center, Baltimore is bogged down in a politicized football game that has yet to produce a convention headquarters hotel.

The board of the Baltimore Development Corp., the mayor's economic development arm, last week approved tax abatement and profit-sharing concepts for the Inner Harbor East Wyndham hotel. Once the administration completes the legal work, the City Council will receive the financing package for that taxpayer-subsidized, 750-room complex proposed by political rainmaker John Paterakis.

Meanwhile, prospects for a second hotel closer to the underused Convention Center are uncertain. Last Thursday, the BDC board took no action on Orioles owner Peter Angelos' proposal for an 850-room Grand Hyatt. Instead, a consultant has been hired to study how a second hotel would "impact on different types of hotels in the market," according to BDC chairman Roger C. Lipitz.

Is the Angelos proposal in trouble? Perhaps. "There are still questions of timing, design, who the developers are, minority participants and others," says Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, stating he favors a hotel over a parking lot at two city-owned parcels next to the Convention Center.

Pardon our skepticism, but we wonder if the Schmoke administration is devising ways to make sure the Wyndham Hotel doesn't face competition from a new rival when it opens at its off-the-beaten-track location south of Little Italy. Initial success is important to Mr. Paterakis because he and his three equity partners intend to "flip" the hotel three months after completion and sell it at a profit to the Patriot American real estate investment trust, a giant operator of hotels and casinos.

Such protectionism would not be in the best interests of Marylanders. The Convention Center, which was expanded last year at a cost of $159 million to taxpayers, suffers from a dearth of bookings after the year 2000.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the Appropriations Committee in Annapolis, has repeatedly expressed concern. At stake are the state's $109 million Convention Center investment and the city's $50 million. Moreover, the state is responsible for two-thirds of the center's annual operating deficit through 2008. That could amount to another $40 million.

In a letter to the General Assembly just last week, Mr. Rawlings urged that the city "recommend that a new convention center headquarters hotel be built as close as possible to the convention center."

The Wyndham facility does not qualify as a convention headquarters hotel. Even its backers concede that. Mr. Angelos' Grand Hyatt would be such a hotel, though. So would a 44-story Westin Hotel developer Harvey Schulweis wants to construct on the old News American site on Pratt Street, connected to the Renaissance Inner Harbor Hotel.

If the Wyndham gets final City Council approval next spring, it will break ground long before any rival. That's as much favoritism as it ought to get. Delaying another hotel at this point would only hurt future business at the Convention Center and cost taxpayers dearly.

Pub Date: 12/22/97

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