New hotel towers over former woes

Neighbors watch rise of 31-story building


November 20, 1999|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

Last November, the two-story Baltimore Civil War Museum did a pretty good job of holding its own against the fledgling construction site next door that would become downtown's largest hotel.

But today, as contractors pour concrete for the 28th floor of the $117 million lodging project, the museum appears to be a dwarf alongside the concrete behemoth that will become the Marriott Inner Harbor East.

On sunny afternoons, shadows from the concrete shell that will be a 750-room hotel engulf the museum, the site of a former train station where both Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee passed through here.

"We look pretty puny next to them," said Ray Stolle, a caretaker at the museum. "But we think it'll be great for the museum when they're done."

In the past year, construction crews have poured more than 31,000 cubic yards of concrete to form the hotel's floors and walls, en route to a planned 340-foot-tall structure that when "topped out" around year's end will be 31 stories.

Construction of a 600-space parking garage containing 50,000 square feet of retail space to complement the hotel will begin early next year.

Where only 20 workers were needed to dig holes for the hotel's base a year ago, more than 400 carpenters, mechanical experts and other skilled and nonskilled workers today swarm the project, laying brick and crafting details.

The first panes of sky-blue-tinted glass have been installed as well, providing a glimpse of what the "skin" of the hotel will look like.

Interior work, including the installation of stairs and other finishes in and around the future Marriott Inner Harbor East's ballroom, has also begun on the 700,000-square-foot project.

In all, developer H&S Properties Development Co., a real estate company owned by H&S Bakery Inc. co-owner John Paterakis Sr., has spent more than $40 million on the building's construction.

Away from the two-acre hotel near Little Italy, other obstacles have surfaced -- and been crushed. Three lawsuits have been defeated. Barriers to much-coveted tax breaks have been pushed aside. A flagging Dallas hotel chain that had signed up to fly its banner atop the hotel has been replaced by Bethesda-based Marriott International Inc.

Along the way, attitudes have turned.

"A number of people who questioned the building are now saying that it looks really nice and they're really impressed," said Michael S. Beatty, an H&S Properties vice president.

Marriott has introduced the hotel -- scheduled for completion at the end of next year -- to its global reservation system. The world's largest hotel chain has also taken the first steps toward establishing a 15-person sales and marketing staff on site.

H&S Properties says it is "close to finalizing the details" of a joint venture agreement with Marriott and Allegis Realty Co., an Aetna Life Insurance affiliate, which will involve selling ownership stakes in the project, Beatty said.

"We're roaring along," Beatty said. "It's been a long road, but we feel pretty good about the progress and the way it's going."

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