Ritz now proposes one tall tower

Harbor hotel gives city 26-story alternative to opposed 2-tower plan

May 28, 1999|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

The Florida developer working to construct a Ritz-Carlton hotel south of the Inner Harbor unveiled plans for the $100 million project to the city yesterday, including a newly designed 26-story tower -- significantly taller than previously proposed.

The proposal presented yesterday to the city's Design Advisory Panel is an alternative to a two-building plan that would rise 135 feet.

As it has in the past, developer Neil Fisher's proposals for the 250-room luxury hotel and 50-unit condominium project drew opposition because they would violate height restrictions in place through 2007 and require a change in city ordinances that govern the land adjacent to the Rusty Scupper restaurant.

The single-tower plan presented to the DAP has a proposed height of roughly 270 feet.

The restrictions limit development to 71 feet, so as not to block views from historic Federal Hill, which rises 82 feet.

South Baltimore residents object to the plans for a single tower because of its height, but DAP members appeared to favor the approach.

"From an urban design point of view, a single tower preserves more of the panoramic view," said DAP member Reginald W. Griffith. "That's pretty straightforward. I see no problem with the height of a single tower."

Said Elliot Rhodeside, another DAP member: "Retaining a slice of the water view is really key from an urban design point, I think. And the single tower concept does that best."

The tallest building in Baltimore is the William Donald Schaefer Tower at 6 St. Paul St., which is 590 feet tall, including its 120-foot "mast." The World Trade Center, across the Inner Harbor from the proposed Ritz, is 30 stories and 423 feet tall.

The project's architect, Michael Graves & Associates Inc. of Princeton, N.J., also endorsed the single-building scheme for the hotel, which Fisher hopes to have open by 2002.

"As the building gets taller, it frees up more of the land," said Michael Graves, famous for designs for the World Bank's International Finance Corp. and Washington Monument scaffolding and interior renovation, both in Washington. "It frees up the site for use by all the people. We feel urbanistically that it presents a way out of this dilemma [of blocking views from Federal Hill]."

Office building, retail, too

Graves added that the hotel could even "go on a diet" to trim its mass and rise another four or five stories.

In addition to the hotel, which would have a 45-foot-high arcade to allow the city promenade to continue around the water uninterrupted, Fisher also presented plans for a five-story office building and ancillary retail. In all, the office and retail space would add between 150,000 square feet and 175,000 square feet to the project.

The hotel, by comparison, totals about 300,000 square feet.

Blocked view opposed

Residents objected to both the single-tower and two-building plans, since both would block views of the water.

"We are opposed to the proposed blockage of this historic view," said Tim Hodge, a Tydings & Rosenberg attorney and a Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point community group board member.

"I'd prefer to see something more sensitive to the historic nature of the hill and the community," said Dick Leitch, president-elect of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association.

Leitch, who said Fisher failed to present plans to the neighborhood group despite a pledge to do so, read a statement supporting the Ritz-Carlton concept but opposing the specific plans.

Leitch also said "other processes" might be employed if neighborhood groups remain unhappy with the plans.

After the DAP meeting, he said the "processes" reference was to design reviews stemming from the site's federal historic status, and not litigation.

`This is the best'

Fisher, who denied the neighborhood association's charges, said the idea for the single tower came from city planners. But he also favors one building rather than two, he said.

"From a developer's and builder's perspective, this is the best," Fisher said, motioning to a rendering of the 26-story proposal.

DAP members also acknowledged the inevitability that the Propeller Yard site, so named because Bethlehem Steel once made ship propellers there, will be developed as commercial space.

"The site is clearly going to be developed," said DAP member Melvin L. Mitchell. "There's just a philosophical issue of whether there's going to be a tower there or not."

DAP members told Fisher and Graves that they wanted to see more detailed designs and a model of the hotel before passing judgment, and the developer and architect pledged to produce plans in the near future.

"This is a spectacular site deserving of a Ritz-Carlton," said Fisher, who is also developing a $160 million Ritz-Carlton in Miami and a similar $135 million hotel in nearby Coconut Grove, Fla.

"We want to do something to bring Baltimore into the 21st century. I can't make everybody happy, and I know that. I've tried."

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