Ritz-Carlton developer scales down plans

Proposals for condos, office building altered to head off litigation


November 12, 1999|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

The Florida developer proposing a Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel south of the Inner Harbor yesterday unveiled revised plans for the $100 million project, the seventh time designs have been altered since the project was announced nine months ago.

The most notable changes introduced yesterday by developer Neil Fisher involve not the planned three-building hotel, but scaled-down proposals for luxury condominiums, office space and parking at the project.

Fisher and his architects intend to scale down components to meet height restrictions governing the site, which is at the foot of historic Federal Hill and adjacent to the Rusty Scupper restaurant.

Fisher said the changes were prompted by the threat of litigation from community leaders, which he and Ritz-Carlton want to avoid.

Earlier this year, Fisher had proposed a 26-story hotel tower that would have violated height limits and risen nearly 200 feet higher than Federal Hill, a move that raised the ire of residents and preservationists.

The latest design meets the 71-foot height restriction in place since the mid-1970s, which remains in effect until June 2007.

"I want to get this built," Fisher said, during a hearing of the city's Design Advisory Panel (DAP). "I have tried to be cooperative, I have tried to be compromising."

When Fisher originally proposed a 250-room Ritz-Carlton on the former site of a Bethlehem Steel Corp. propeller yard, the project included a five-story, 125,000-square-foot office building, 50 condominiums and as many as 500 parking spaces.

Under the revised plan from architect Michael Graves & Associates Inc., the project includes 32 condominiums and 350 parking spaces, and the office space has shrunk to three floors and 75,000 square feet, said Tom Rowe, the project's lead designer.

The development team also unveiled plans to link the glass-and-metal Ritz-Carlton with a raised masonry base, which will contain a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, health club and other amenities. Parking and the project's loading docks will be underground.

The six-story Ritz-Carlton will be capped with a zinc- or copper-coated curved roof, Rowe said.

"We've tried to keep it as clean and clear a project as possible within the height limits," Rowe said. "We wanted to keep the hotel as simple a massing as possible."

In conditionally approving the revised plans for the 310,000-square-foot Ritz-Carlton, DAP members cautioned that much more work needs to be done.

"We still have concerns about the views and vantage points," said Mario Schack, DAP's chairman.

"As a conceptual design, I think this works well," said M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency, and a DAP member.

While the plans for the 6.2-acre project appear to have the blessing of some key neighborhood groups, not everyone is satisfied with the new plans.

Bonnie Crockett, a member of the Federal Hill North Neighborhood Association, said a spoken poll of residents indicated 60 percent favor a taller, slimmer Ritz-Carlton.

"I feel it's not airy. It's a mass," said Rebecca Hoffberger, executive director of the American Visionary Arts Museum, which sits across from the site of the Ritz-Carlton and whose view would be blocked by Fisher's current plans. "I feel like it's going to be another separation to the harbor."

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