Bill on hotels gaining support 20 city delegates back putting proposed sites on November ballot

March 13, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

A measure that would send the controversial Inner Harbor East hotel project to referendum this fall appears to be winning new support from Baltimore legislators in Annapolis, despite the objections of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Twenty of the city's 29 delegates have signed a letter supporting legislation to put the Wyndham Hotel project -- as well as a second hotel planned next to the convention center -- on the ballot in November.

Despite that support, the bill's sponsor, Baltimore Del. Howard P. Rawlings, declined to predict whether it could clear the House.

The bill's prospects in the Senate, meanwhile, remain weak as only two of the city's 10 senators are behind it, lawmakers said.

Schmoke was in Annapolis to lobby against the referendum bill this week. Hotel representatives and the head of the city development agency are also opposed, saying a referendum would slow the projects.

But Rawlings said residents of the city should be given the chance to decide the controversial issue.

"There is a strong indication that a substantial number of Baltimore citizens have lost confidence in the process," Rawlings said.

Testifying before the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee yesterday, Rawlings pointed out that Baltimore voters routinely get to vote on city building projects involving schools or cultural institutions.

"Baltimore citizens should have the opportunity to vote on public funding for hotel projects, too," Rawlings said.

A half-dozen community activists told committee members that the city had undone an award-winning development plan to approve the 41-story Inner Harbor East proposal. They said they had come to Annapolis frustrated by their dealings with City Hall.

"We feel like we've been ignored," said Mary Robey of the Southeast Community Organization. "This type of bill is a last resort to have any input on this."

The measure spells out that the Wyndham Hotel, as well as the Grand Hyatt proposed for a site just west of the convention center, would have to go on the ballot if they received more than $5 million in public subsidies.

The Wyndham, being developed by a group led by bakery magnate John Paterakis Sr., is slated to receive $25 million in city tax breaks. The Hyatt is seeking $43 million in city assistance, including $17 million in tax breaks. Its development team is led by Baltimore attorney Peter G. Angelos.

John A. Pica Jr., a lobbyist for Angelos, told the committee that convention-oriented hotels need significant public subsidy to succeed, and he argued against the referendum bill.

"This is bad legislation," Pica said. "The Grand Hyatt project would come to a stop. You couldn't make any financing decisions until November 1998 when the referendum is held."

M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., which is overseeing the hotel projects, also argued against the bill.

"To add a referendum requirement sends a message of uncertainty to developers," Brodie said.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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