Developer pledges 5% of profits to local charities

Proposed Ritz-Carlton in Federal Hill may fund low-cost housing plans

Commercial real estate

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

The Florida developer proposing a Ritz-Carlton hotel at the base of Federal Hill pledged yesterday to give 5 percent of the profits from the luxury lodging project to local charities.

Neil Fisher, who faced considerable community opposition after proposing the $100 million hotel rise 16 stories above the historic hill south of the Inner Harbor, said the contributions to Sandtown Habitat for Humanity and others could total $3 million over the next decade.

Fisher, who said he has faced hard times and been forced into bankruptcy in the past, said the philanthropic support for the nonprofit and other groups was a "logical connection."

"To think that I'm doing a Ritz-Carlton, which many, many people in Baltimore can't afford to spend a night in, and across town people are struggling," Fisher said. "So that's why I feel obligated to help this organization."

Fisher, who said his wife, T. J., introduced him to Habitat for Humanity, said he had "no ulterior motive" and did not expect the pledge to translate into community support.

Federal Hill neighborhood groups have supported Fisher's latest plan for the 250-room hotel and condominium project, a three-building complex that meets height restrictions governing development around Federal Hill.

Fisher was joined in pledging to give 5 percent of his project's profits by James Lancelotta, his partner in Wyndholme Village, a 1,300-unit community for the deaf and senior citizens, planned in Irvington.

Lancelotta, who credits Fisher with rescuing Wyndholme from bankruptcy, also projects donating $3 million by 2009.

Fisher, who said the 5 percent contribution will apply even if one of the projects is sold, said he expects to begin contributing money to the charities once the Ritz-Carlton generates "stabilized" income, roughly 18 months after opening.

Wyndholme, a 33-acre project near Mount St. Joseph High School, is expected to contribute funds before the Ritz-Carlton.

"We are excited," Lancelotta said. "Wyndholme is a prototype, and thanks to Neil and his team's financial support, we are now looking at future sites in Florida and Virginia."

In addition to Habitat for Humanity, which will receive half of the charitable proceeds, Fisher and Lancelotta plan to direct 40 percent of the proceeds to educational scholarships and to training deaf Wyndholme Village employees. The remaining 10 percent will be allocated to environmental causes.

"I wish more developers would embrace Neil's philosophy," said Allan Tibbels, co-executive director of Sandtown Habitat for Humanity. "The synergy is ideal. Large development projects giving back to the most basic of development needs, affordable housing."

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