Hotel shrinks by 100 rooms

Developer acts to meet neighbors' concerns for Inner Harbor site

Lodging

February 19, 1999|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

The Florida developer working to construct a Ritz-Carlton or other luxury hotel at the Inner Harbor intends to shave off nearly one-third of the rooms planned for the $80 million project to meet height requirements and appease neighbors' concerns.

Developer Neil Fisher's decision to chop the number of rooms being planned from 350 to 250 was announced during a private meeting with community leaders and residents Wednesday evening.

"I thought it was a thoughtful proposal that would try and incorporate the neighborhood's concerns," said David Marshall, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association. "He seemed sincere about wanting to work with the community."

The meeting with residents at the 27-story HarborView condominium tower marked the first time Fisher has described the project in detail, and it was a critical hurdle for the project.

Fisher had said this week that he would "walk away" from the hotel, which would be built next to the Rusty Scupper restaurant, if it did not receive community support.

Fisher said after the meeting that he is "optimistic that the project will go forward."

A tentative design of the hotel shows three separate buildings connected by glass and curved to fit into the landscape of the former Bethlehem Steel Co. shipyard. The loss of 100 rooms would allow Fisher to almost meet the 71-foot height restriction for buildings that was imposed by the city in September 1975. Residents are concerned that a tall structure would block views of the water.

Fisher's hotel would be 74 feet high.

In addition to reducing the number of hotel rooms, Fisher told residents, he intends to include 40 luxury condominium units that would likely sell for $500,000 and up.

Fisher told Federal Hill residents that the project would include a 500-space parking garage that would be partly underground, and valet parking for about 100 more cars.

Residents complained that even at that number, parking for the luxury hotel's guests, employees and people attending special events, along with condominium residents, would be insufficient.

Fisher responded that the parking spaces would far exceed what is required by city code and that adding more would be difficult.

"I realize there is a parking problem here, but I told them that I can't be penalized for an overall lack of parking, and I think they understood that," Fisher said.

Community leaders also asked for and received a pledge that casino gambling would not be part of the hotel.

Ever since plans for the Wyndham Inner Harbor East Hotel were announced, neighbors have expressed fears that the $134 million lodging project might someday contain slot machines or other gaming.

"I think he recognizes the two major areas that are sensitive to the community: loss of their view and parking," said Sen. George W. Della Jr., who attended the meeting and whose district includes Federal Hill.

"Whether the developer has gone far enough to meet those concerns I don't know yet," the Baltimore Democrat said.

Fisher and community leaders have set another meeting for Tuesday, where his architect, Michael Graves & Associates of Princeton, N.J., is to present more detailed plans.

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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