Backing up his pledge to build a luxury hotel in downtown Baltimore without a dime of public money, New York developer Harvey Schulweis unveiled his design for the $124 million project yesterday and announced plans to break ground this fall.
Schulweis and his architects released drawings for the former News American site that depict the hotel rising 12 stories along Pratt Street and 27 stories on the north side of the downtown property, a configuration that would give most of the 602 guest rooms unobstructed views of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
The hotel also would have a 200-seat restaurant with outdoor seating along Pratt Street; a lobby bar; a health club and indoor pool opening onto a fourth-level courtyard; a 15,000-square-foot ballroom; and other amenities. Westin Hotels & Resorts would be the operator.
During and after a meeting of the Baltimore's Architectural Review Board yesterday, Schulweis vowed to begin construction this fall and open by Oct. 1, 2000 -- even though the project will not receive the same level of city funding as two others, a Grand Hyatt near Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a Wyndham in Inner Harbor East.
"We have a project to build and we're going to get it built," he said. "We should be in the ground by October or November."
Schulweis said he is not concerned that too many rooms could be coming onto the market at the same time, as some industry observers have warned, because he is confident that the Westin name and the central location will appeal to tourists, conventioneers and business travelers.
"It's going to hit all segments of the market," he said. "It's the kind of hotel that's going to attract customers that aren't going to go anywhere else."
Last month, Baltimore's City Council approved a multimillion-dollar plan that increased public subsidies for the proposed $134 million, 750-room Wyndham Inner Harbor East hotel to about 30 percent, freeing developers from paying property taxes for the next 25 years. Builders hope to break ground on that 31-story project, led by Baltimore businessman John Paterakis Sr., by the end of June.
The council also approved legislation recently to allow an 850-room Grand Hyatt proposed by Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos to be built next to to the Baltimore Convention Center. It is scheduled to be completed early in 2001. About 29 percent of that proposed $150 million project would be publicly subsidized.
Schulweis, the head of Schulweis Realty Inc., originally sought city funding to build a $173 million, 800-room Westin hotel that would have risen 44 stories on the News American site and won the endorsement of the Baltimore Development Corporation's staff.
But when his proposal did not receive backing from the BDC's board of directors or from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, he said he would build a scaled-down version of the project, without public subsidies.
Because Schulweis controls the property at Pratt and South streets, and zoning for the land already permits a high-rise hotel, he needs few approvals from the city other than required permits for construction.
Schulweis did not say exactly how he would finance the hotel. But he said he is working with ING US Realty Corp., a subsidiary of ING Group. ING Group is one of the largest financial services corporations in the world, with assets in excess of $400 billion and a real estate portfolio of approximately $10 billion.
Westin, which will not have an equity interest in the project, has been ranked the top four-star hotel chain by Business Travel News for the past three years. A recent survey of hotel patrons by J. D. Power & Associates and Frequent Flyer magazine also gave Westin the No. 1 ranking.
The Pratt Street Westin would be the first in Maryland for the Seattle-based chain, which has more than 100 hotels worldwide and has been trying on and off to launch a project in downtown Baltimore for two decades. Schulweis said room rates would be comparable to those at other Westins -- about $200 per night at present.
Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. is the builder, and Tishman Construction Corp. will assist with construction management.
The hotel has been designed by Brennan Beer Gorman Architects of New York and RTKL Associates of Baltimore. Brennan Beer Gorman Monk/Interiors is the interior designer.
The building will have a shell of precast stone and clear glass windows, and a stepped tower will be about the same height as a neighboring office tower atop the Gallery at Harborplace one block west.
The five-story base will contain the lobbies, restaurant and nearly 30,000 square feet of meeting space. The main entrance would be off South Street, and a two-level garage for 208 cars would be constructed below street level.
Schulweis said the Westin and the neighboring 600-room Renaissance hotel together would represent a block of 1,200 rooms. Although the two hotels could be linked above street level by a pedestrian bridge, the designers said they have no plans to do so at present.