Downtown hotel tax break wins preliminary approval

Bill would aid project proposed for Light Street

June 08, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Although Baltimore faces budget deficits amounting to $153 million over the next four years, the City Council gave preliminary approval yesterday to a $6.1 million tax break for developers of a proposed downtown hotel.

Supporters of the 35-story hotel and garage on the site of the Southern Hotel at 1 Light St. say the project will add $3.3 million a year to city coffers from other levies, such as room taxes and parking fees.

The council also gave preliminary approval to a measure that provides a $16.1 million construction loan for the hotel parking lot.

"We live in the real world and there are people who want everyone to pay their fair share," council President Lawrence A. Bell III said. "Yet there are times we must support and jump start development in our city."

Final approval of the bills is expected next week. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has been using tax breaks to spur economic development downtown. Tomorrow, the council will hold a hearing at 5: 30 p.m. on a $75 million tax break for the Wyndham Hotel being built at President and Fleet streets in the Inner Harbor East.

The council voted in favor of the Light Street plan, 13-5, but not before opponents lashed out.

"It's the wrong message to be sending to city residents," said Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., who represents Southeast Baltimore. "We're giving a tax break to the developer while the little man is still paying the freight."

Joining D'Adamo in opposing the measure were council members Lois A. Garey, John L. Cain, Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. Councilwoman Rita R. Church was absent.

The Light Street project being built by J. Joseph Clarke, president of J. J. Clarke Enterprises Inc., is expected to provide 740 construction jobs, 532 hotel positions and 194 spin-off jobs for residents.

Developers say the tax break will help reduce the per-night hotel rate from $165 to $135-$145, considered by the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association to be the upper limit for convention groups.

In other action, about 75 Southwest Baltimore residents protested outside City Hall over plans to expand the dumping of demolition debris in a former Gwynn Falls quarry at 2900 W. Baltimore St.

Potts & Callahan Inc. of Baltimore holds a permit to dump concrete, bricks, dirt, sand and asphalt on 4 acres of the 25-acre site. The company, which has won municipal contracts to remove debris from demolished housing, wants to dump on additional acreage. Despite assurances from Potts & Callahan, residents worry that other materials might be dumped at the quarry.

The residents want Schmoke to sign a bill approved by the council in November that would strictly control materials that could be dumped.

The council also introduced two resolutions last night that call for:

A review of city employee health care costs. Prescription costs for employees and retirees have risen by $26.5 million over the past five years. The Baltimore Homeowners Coalition wants to raise the co-payment fee for municipal workers from $5 to $10, similar to private companies. Councilwoman Sheila Dixon introduced the measure, supported by 12 council colleagues.

Creation of a strike force to target troubled neighborhoods. The Block By Block Neighborhood Stabilization Strike Force suggested by Bell would link municipal agencies with neighborhood groups.

Pub Date: 6/08/99

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