At last a Convention Center hotel Grand Hyatt: 850-room tower strengthens development focus on Baltimore's west side.

January 25, 1998

CITY HALL endorsement of an 850-room Grand Hyatt across the street from the Convention Center and Oriole Park is much-needed good news that boosts efforts to revitalize the western side of Baltimore's downtown.

"We will have two downtown hotels," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke declared last week, predicting that 1,600 additional rooms are "going to make us one of the most vibrant, most competitive convention cities in the country."

Baltimore Development Corp.'s nod to the Grand Hyatt plans probably comes too late for Baltimore to recoup business recently lost because of inadequate room capacity. Just two months ago, the American Association of Orthodontists decided that the hotel situation here was too chancy and moved its 2002 convention of 15,000 delegates to Philadelphia.

Two additional hotels would bring Baltimore close to the goal of 4,000 "committable rooms" within a mile of the Convention Center, which is one of the yardsticks meeting planners use in considering host cities for major gatherings. A lot of wrinkles need to be ironed out, though. Says Carroll R. Armstrong, the city's convention chief, "This is a good start. But more is needed -- like a shovel in the ground."

If a subsidy package can be worked out, the first of the hotels -- the Inner Harbor East Wyndham -- plans to break ground this spring. The controversial 41-story skyscraper with 750 rooms would open in 2000. The 24-story Grand Hyatt would open the following spring.

The impact of the Grand Hyatt -- which would be only the fifth such luxury establishment opened by the chain in the United States -- could go far beyond conventions.

Because of its location close to Oriole Park and the Ravens football stadium that will be inaugurated this year, the $150 million hotel promises to be an important economic anchor in that part of town. The nearby University of Maryland, Baltimore campus has embarked on an extensive expansion program in recent years; so has the neighboring University of Maryland Medical System.

BDC's decision on the Grand Hyatt comes at a time when consultants are studying revitalization of the area just north of the Convention Center, between the UMAB campus and the financial district.

Those studies have two focuses: reviving a 75-acre district bounded by Saratoga, Paca, Camden and Liberty streets that once was the city's main department store and theater district; and using the old Hippodrome Theater at Eutaw and Fayette streets as the centerpiece of a performing arts center.

Meanwhile, planners are preparing to consider two longer-term issues:

What will happen when the height restrictions and other covenants start expiring next year on Charles Center, the 1960s complex that was the city's first modern office campus?

How to replace the old and inadequate Baltimore Arena.

Construction of the Grand Hyatt could affect those questions, particularly because its lead investor, Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, is a key Charles Center property owner. That's why it is important that no needless bureaucratic barriers are put before the hotel that would delay its timetable.

Unlike the Inner Harbor East Wyndham, which will be off the beaten track south of Little Italy, the Grand Hyatt is not a speculative development. It will be surrounded by many important institutions that need guest rooms and flexible conference space. The Grand Hyatt could be a linchpin for wider revitalization on the western side of downtown.

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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