Ritz hotel developer willing to cut design

To win community, he might settle for 2, not 3 buildings

Commercial real estate

February 25, 1999|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

The Florida real estate developer working to construct a Ritz-Carlton hotel south of the Inner Harbor intends to redesign the $85 million project to win community support.

Developer Neil Fisher said that he will consider eliminating one of three buildings from the 250-room hotel to assuage community opposition voiced at a meeting with Federal Hill residents Tuesday night.

In exchange, Fisher asked neighborhood leaders to allow the Ritz-Carlton to exceed height restrictions that prohibit development above 74 feet on the Key Highway site, adjacent to the Rusty Scupper restaurant.

"I'm confident that we'll eventually end up with a product that works best for the city, the neighborhoods, me as a developer and Ritz-Carlton as a hotel operator," Fisher said after the meeting.

Community support is viewed as a critical hurdle to the project. Fisher has said he would abandon the hotel without residents' backing.

The two-building scheme is vastly different from the one Fisher presented to the group last week -- three six-story buildings connected by glass corridors.

Neighborhood residents objected vehemently to both the glass and the width of the three-building hotel because both would block views of the water.

Fisher, who less than a week before had trimmed the project by 100 rooms to win community backing, agreed to have his architects rework the plans.

"We're actively working with the developer to bridge the gaps that exist," said Jerry Wachtel, a member of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association who attended Tuesday's meeting.

"It still sounds like a good idea to me, but I'm not optimistic that we will be able to satisfy everyone's needs," he said.

Wachtel said he thought the two-building alternative was a "potentially workable solution."

2 taller buildings

A tentative new design calls for two taller buildings of undetermined height.

Residents suggested that Fisher stagger the two buildings' heights, resulting in one tower of perhaps eight stories and another containing 12 floors.

Fisher said the three-building plan -- minus the glass corridors -- could remain an option but said that decision would have to be made by Ritz-Carlton.

Fisher also offered to ameliorate concern over views by constructing a single tower of roughly 24 stories, but that plan was largely dismissed.

"People here were so burned by [nearby] HarborView that every time they hear the word tower they go, `Oh, no!' " said Rebecca Hoffberger, director of the American Visionary Arts Museum, which is directly across from the Ritz-Carlton site.

The neighborhood group also asked Fisher to consider adding parking spaces, and he responded with a plan to provide 500 spaces -- more than 100 additional spots -- if he could acquire the parking garage next to the Rusty Scupper from the city.

That two-deck lot has a 55-foot height restriction on development.

If an acquisition of that lot is not possible, Fisher would construct 390 spaces to serve the hotel and 40 condominiums planned there.

Another potential plan calls for development of a single-deck garage containing hundreds of spaces underneath Rash Field.

To meet in 10 days

David Marshall, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, said the plan for 500 spaces pleased residents.

The two sides agreed to meet within the next 10 days to determine whether they can hammer out any remaining differences.

"Our main focus now is in preserving the view from the hill so that people can enjoy the park and the area and so that a Ritz-Carlton can be built there," Marshall said.

Pub Date: 2/25/99

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