Fisher out of deal for hotel, Ritz says

But Florida developer insists he's still part of $100 million project

January 11, 2000|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Stuart C. "Neil" Fisher, the repeatedly bankrupt Florida real estate man who has promised Baltimore a lavish waterfront Ritz-Carlton hotel, is no longer involved in the project, hotel officials said yesterday.

But Ritz executives also said the $100 million deal, which would bring the city its first five-star hotel, is going forward without him..

"The Ritz is still interested in having a presence in Baltimore," said Ritz vice president of development Phil Keb. "There are some new parties involved, and there are parties who were involved who no longer are. Mr. Fisher is one of the people who is not."

Keb declined to specify who is now part of the project. He would only say they are not from Baltimore. Plans for the 250-room, six-floor hotel on the former site of the Bethlehem Steel Corp. propeller yard on Key Highway, continue to progress, he said.

But Fisher, who has lowered his once-high profile image in Baltimore, maintained that he's not backing away.

"I still have the property under contract," he said. "A Ritz-Carlton will be built there. It's the same investment group. We're not running away from Baltimore. I was there and will continue to be there until it's done. The people that were involved since the beginning are still there."

If Fisher is removed from the project, it would be consistent with a pattern that has defined his real-estate career.

In previous projects in Florida, New York and Maryland, he proposed upscale waterfront developments that ended amid disputes, bankruptcies and lawsuits alleging fraud.

He never completed any of those projects.

The Sun reported in November that Fisher had no apparent assets and was refusing to pay a $1.28 million fraud judgment issued for a Maryland land deal. Also in November, The Sun reported that Fisher's close friend and partner on many projects was John R. Quinn, a New York developer once convicted with Maryland con man Jeffrey A. Levitt.

Baltimore officials said yesterday they were glad to hear Ritz-Carlton's plans for a hotel were advancing. "I'm delighted that they're still interested," said M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp.

Keb declined to speculate on when the hotel might be completed, saying there are too many factors.

Fisher said he expects to close on the property within a couple of months and expects the hotel to be completed by the first or second quarter of 2003.

He acknowledged that the time is approaching when he will be less involved in the hotel project.

"I put together the deal," he said. "That's what I do. I take the raw piece of land and get the approvals. Once I have all the approvals, then somebody else will be taking it over and taking the project from the approval stage to the construction stage."

Fisher said that his wife "happens to be one of the members of the investment group."

Earlier, Fisher said that the Ritz-Carlton financing would be arranged through Philips International Realty, a real estate investment trust headed by Philip Pilevsky, a New York City shopping center magnate.

Pilevsky is best known for financially backing hotelier and Studio 54 owner Ian Schrager after Schrager's conviction for tax evasion in 1979.

Pilevsky's past or current involvement as a backer of the Ritz-Carlton hotel project could not be independently confirmed. He did not return calls seeking comment.

"I want the Ritz-Carlton to be a success in Baltimore," Fisher said. "Today, we are proceeding as aggressively as we ever have to try to bring a Ritz-Carlton to the Inner Harbor."

Keb has been scouting for an appropriate Inner Harbor site for a Ritz-Carlton since 1995. Every U.S. city as big as Baltimore has a five-star hotel, he said.

Typically, Ritz-Carlton manages hotels, but does not own them or invest in their construction. Keb works with developers and hotel owners to make sure their properties meet Ritz-Carlton standards.

Fisher's original plan, first proposed early last year, called for a 26-story hotel tower that would have violated height limits and risen to nearly 200 feet higher than Federal Hill, a move that angered residents and preservationists. Since then, the plans have undergone at least seven revisions.

Plans for the 310,000-square-foot hotel include 250 guest rooms, 32 condominiums, two restaurants and a lobby lounge, as well as a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, a health club, meeting facilities and underground parking for 325 to 350 cars.

A 75,000-square-foot office building would be constructed on a neighboring property.

The Ritz-Carlton is one of several downtown hotel projects proposed for Baltimore in recent years. The 31-story, 750-room Marriott Inner Harbor East is the city's only major lodging project under construction.

Last month, the city approved a payment in lieu of taxes for the 600-room Westin Hotel proposed for the site of the former News American building downtown.

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