Coalition ads criticize city tax break for hotels

Arrangement would allow gambling, group says

June 11, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Homeowners Coalition is using radio advertisements to criticize a city tax break for new hotels.

The taxpayers group said the measure will open the door for casino gambling.

During the next week, the City Council is expected to grant an estimated $75 million property tax break over 25 years to developers of the Wyndham hotel being built at President and Fleet streets in Inner Harbor East.

The homeowners group contends that state law permitting the tax break also would allow the Wyndham hotel's owners, including chief partner H&S Bakery mogul John Paterakis Sr., to add casino gambling if the state ban is lifted.

"The bill even allows gambling at taxpayers' expense," say the radio ads, which will run through today. "We say no way."

The ads are being aired on WOLB-AM, WWIN-AM and WCAO-AM.

Paterakis' aides say gambling is not an issue with the hotel because they have agreed with the city to a 25-year casino gambling ban on the site. The agreement is in plans approved by the city. City economic development officials say the agreement will be enforced.

Southeast City Councilman John L. Cain, however, is pushing an amendment that would reinforce that city gambling ban.

City attorneys and some council members oppose the Cain measure, saying the city is limited on what stipulations it can place on hotel properties because of the state law.

A similar $6.1 million property tax exemption is being offered to developers building a hotel on the site of Southern Hotel at 1 Light St.

"What the gentleman from the 1st District is trying to do is get around state law," said Councilman Robert Curran, who represents Northeast Baltimore. "I don't believe we have that authority."

The radio ads are the first in the history of the coalition, which annually represents city taxpayers in battles with the city over its $1.8 billion budget.

"This is such a flagrant violation of taxpayers' trust," coalition officer Karen Footner said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and a majority of City Council members support the hotel projects as stimulants to the stagnating city tax base.

After three years, the Wyndham and Southern hotels each will bring in an additional $3.3 million in city taxes annually for everything from hotel beds to parking fees.

Hotel lawyers oppose the Cain amendment, saying it would be too restrictive to their tenants because it would unfairly prohibit forms of gambling allowed by the state, such as the lottery.

Pub Date: 6/11/99

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