Harvey Schulweis' plan for hotel sets him apart

This Just In . . .

March 04, 1998|By Dan Rodricks

I called Harvey Schulweis, the real estate tycoon, at his 50th-floor office in New York City early yesterday morning, and he answered the phone himself. And then he answered my first question: "Can you really do this, Harvey Schulweis?"

"Yes," he said. "We believe in the project."

Without benefit of subsidy from the city of Baltimore or a high-five from our mayor, Schulweis plans to build a 600-room, four-star Westin Hotel across from the Inner Harbor. This, of course, separates him from the two other multimillionaires who want to build hotels here with millions of dollars from taxpayers. John Paterakis, the mayor's pal, wants his Wyndham at Inner Harbor East; he's due $50 million in public money and tax breaks. Peter Angelos proposes a Grand Hyatt near Camden Yards; he wants $43 million from us.

Here comes Schulweis, with his grand scheme for Pratt Street, across from Harborplace and the World Trade Center, and he wants nothing from city taxpayers. In your face, your honor!

Schulweis' plan is looking better all the time, and it looked pretty good from the beginning.

Remember: Schulweis' proposal, for the block where the News American used to stand, was the one that most impressed the city's economic development staff and its chairman, the city's Convention Bureau and a panel of experts appointed to study hotel proposals. The mayor, of course, rejected that recommendation and went with the highly political Paterakis deal at Inner Harbor East, about a mile from the new wing of the Baltimore Convention Center.

As a boost to the city's convention business, the Paterakis plan is the weakest of the lot. And yet the mayor stands behind it, unbowed by criticism.

The Angelos plan is far better than Paterakis' because of its location - directly across from the Convention Center - but it's not as close to Harborplace as Schulweis' site.

Schulweis probably has the primo location for a hotel - at the Inner Harbor, yet easy walking distance to the Convention Center. Already, Schulweis says, more than 20 convention groups have expressed interest in his Baltimore project.

"Westin has a very strong following" among meeting planners, he says, so he's confident the Pratt Street hotel will be a success. "We're serious," he says. "This isn't a hobby, you know. It's serious business."

Let's say he's successful.

Let's say Harvey Schulweis, spurned by our Rhodes scholar mayor, builds a hotel without public money and fills the place to capacity. Faced with this competition, the hotels of Paterakis and Angelos, with nearly $100 million in subsidy between them, could go begging for customers.

That would be a city taxpayer's worst nightmare.

But a casino gambling lobbyist's dream.

Maryland, buy Deep Creek

Now let me get this Deep Creek Lake business straight. GPU Inc., a Reading, Pa., power company, owns everything but the water. The state of Maryland owns the water. GPU owns a 100-foot-wide buffer along the lake's 65-mile shoreline. It owns the bottom of the lake, too. Now GPU wants to sell the lake - the bottom, the shore, the rocks, the trees and stuff. It's taking bids until July.

Deep Creek is Western Maryland's biggest tourist attraction. The motorheads love to chop it up with their boats and personal water craft. The walleye fishing is pretty good. About 3,500 private property owners are around the lake. The Wisp ski resort is nearby. There's a state park, and some undeveloped lakefront.

As you might expect, questions about the 3,900-acre lake's future owner add an air of urgency to the sale. Will Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates buy it and kick everyone out, just because he can? Will some fat-cat drain Deep Creek and turn it into a NASCAR track? Will some diabolical scientist working for a foreign madman buy the lake to develop giant, genetically altered muskie?

The state of Maryland should put the issue to rest as soon as possible. A spokesman for GPU estimates book value on the lake and the hydroelectric plant it feeds at $4.6 million.

Can we do that, governor? I think we can.

It's unfortunate the state does not have contractual dibs on buying the lake. Maryland taxpayers should have exclusive rights to top the highest bid, but apparently we don't. (It would be nice if, after all these years of taking state-owned water from Deep Creek to generate electricity, GPU granted us some kind of edge in the sale process.)

The state should buy Deep Creek Lake and the power plant, preserve what's left of the land around it, lease the power plant to some small utility. This is a no-brainer, folks.

John Waters and Murry

John Waters is poster boy, literally, for this year's Addy Awards. In the colorful poster, Waters wears a blood-splattered (or red paint-splattered) butcher's coat, surrounded by sides of beef. He looks like the devilish nephew of Murry of Murry's Steaks. Waters is host of the American Advertising Awards dinner and show Saturday night at the Hyatt. I We can hardly keep up with all movie news in this region. Here's the latest: Paul Newman and Kevin Costner will be involved in a location shoot for a film on part of Tangier Island in April or May. Watch my space!

Contact Dan Rodricks at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278, by telephone at 410-332-6166 or via electronic mail at TJIDAol.com.

Pub Date: 3/04/98

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