Waiting for the shovels Downtown: As the Wyndham wins aid package, two other big hotels scramble to meet market demand.

May 01, 1998

THE APPROACHING summer tourism season is heaven, if you are a downtown hotel operator. Practically every room is booked between now and September. If you need a room, though, you could be in for a hellish experience.

The situation promises to change. Not only has the City Council given final approval to a $40.9 million tax abatement and aid package to the 750-room Inner Harbor East Wyndham hotel, but it has also passed a bill that enables Baltimore to offer similar sweeteners to other hotel developers. Already standing in line is Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who wants taxpayer help to build an 850-room Grand Hyatt.

Meanwhile, Harvey Schulweis is scheduled May 7 to show his plans for a third hotel to the city's Architectural Review Board. He pledges to build the 600-room Westin on Pratt Street, across from Harborplace, without any public aid. The industry guesses that two of these hotels are likely to be built. But the betting is still on about which two and when.

Even though Baltimore has kept adding attractions -- including Oriole Park (1992) and an expanded Convention Center (1996) -- no downtown hotels have been built since 1985. And while bookings now are solid and room prices firm, the market may not be as healthy in about three years, when the earliest of the new hotels is expected to greet guests.

Compared with Philadelphia, Baltimore got a late start in planning for new hotels. Consequently, this city may end up missing this strong economic cycle and have new hotels coming on line just as demand is softening.

Wyndham hotel developers won a big battle in securing the aid package for the hotel he has contracted to sell to the multibillion-dollar Patriot American real estate trust. The development group, however, still needs to clear legal hurdles erected by some opponents. Until shov ls have hit the ground, new downtown hotels remain a mirage.

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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