Fisher moves ahead on Ritz

`City wants this,' developer says, even if Federal Hill objects

May 22, 1999|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

The Florida developer proposing to build a Ritz-Carlton hotel south of the Inner Harbor said yesterday that he is "committed" to develop the $100 million luxury hotel project and hopes to break ground by the end of the year, despite community reservations.

Neil Fisher's comments regarding the 250-room hotel and condominium project, which came after a meeting with city Planning Department officials, stand in stark contrast to earlier statements about the necessity of community support for the project to go forward.

"I have decided that Baltimore is a vibrant city and the climate is right," Fisher said. "The city wants this. I am confident I can get the support of city officials and the vast majority of the citizens of Baltimore. I know I'm not going to get the support of everyone, but this will be a signature project for Baltimore's waterfront."

In addition to the change in attitude, Fisher also introduced another significant change involving the location of the Ritz-Carlton.

Fisher said he plans to incorporate a city-owned parking garage adjacent to the Rusty Scupper restaurant into the design of the project and shift its location slightly toward the Maryland Science Center.

In exchange for demolishing the parking garage, Fisher has pledged to replace the 120 parking spaces with underground parking at a cost of $2.4 million.

The hotel's design, being done by Michael Graves & Associates Inc., calls for two hull-shaped buildings that exceed height restrictions for the site. One building rises nine stories and is 72 feet tall, while the other is 13 stories and 127 feet. Federal Hill is 82 feet tall.

The Rusty Scupper parking lot and other land in the vicinity of Federal Hill carry height restrictions ranging from 55 feet to 71 feet that are set to stay in place until June 2007.

Residents have complained that a hotel above 71 feet would block waterfront views and set a dangerous precedent for development.

City Planning Department officials shot down Graves' idea to jut the hotel's two buildings over the water, because they would violate state law.

Fisher intends to hold a meeting early next week with Federal Hill Neighborhood Association leaders to discuss the plans in preparation for a public meeting Thursday before the city's Design Advisory Panel, where Michael Graves, a renowned architect, also will make a presentation.

"I will do whatever it takes to work with the community and the city and build a five-star hotel here," said Fisher, who added that he has raised $20 million in equity from private investors for the project.

"I believe the unusualness of the project will create interest in it," Fisher said.

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