Ritz-Carlton could open late in 2002

Groundbreaking is possible early next year

Hotel-condo project

Design reviewers, neighbors give informal support

Inner Harbor

May 19, 2000|By Meredith Cohn and Edward Gunts | Meredith Cohn and Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

A $100 million luxury hotel and condominium project planned for Baltimore's Inner Harbor could break ground on Key Highway early next year and open by Christmas 2002, developers said yesterday after design reviewers and neighbors gave it informal support.

The city's approval is still needed for the design, the condo element and enterprise zone designation that carries tax credits, and not all neighbors and members of the city's Design Advisory Panel were completely sold.

But developers, who pledged to follow design rules and respond to concerns, said the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton Inner Harbor could break ground on Key Highway early next year and open by Christmas of 2002."With several earlier schemes, there was pushing and pulling," said Edward V. Giannasca, the recently named president and chief executive officer of L.I. Square Corp., the hotel project's developer.

Giannasca, 38, resigned this month as vice president of the company building the HarborView residential community on Key Highway to lead L.I. Square's efforts to get the Ritz-Carlton project under way after more than a year of deliberations with the city and the community."I saw it as a tremendous op- portunity for myself and for Baltimore City," Giannasca told the Design Advisory Panel, which makes architectural recommendations to the city's planning commission. The group gave the project conceptual approval at its meeting yesterday.

The revised plans call for a 250-room hotel, with 75 condominiums rather than the 32 originally proposed. An 80,000-square-foot office building has been scaled back to 60,000 square feet and moved to a small site on the south edge of the development.

71-foot height limit

With six levels, the hotel is expected to honor a 71-foot height limit imposed by the city to protect views to and from Federal Hill, according to Tom Rowe, principal in charge with Michael Graves Architect of Princeton, N.J.

However, some of the mechanical equipment and elevator shafts could rise 8 feet to 17 feet higher, he said. The five-level office building will be no taller than 71 feet, Rowe said.

The revised plan sets the hotel and condos farther back from Key Highway than the previous plans and calls for a single building, rather than three.

No direct funding assistance

The developers are seeking no direct funding assistance from the city, although they want the site to be included in an enterprise zone that affords tax credits.

They also would like to dress up a city owned parking garage nearby and add a landscaped terrace on the top.

If L.I. Square is successful, the Ritz-Carlton will become the city's only five-star hotel and, according to Giannasca, bring more upscale housing to a tight market and secure a well-regarded brand name for waterfront property already approved for redevelopment.

Although prices have not been set for the luxury residences, Giannasca said, he believes that they could sell for $400 to $500 per square foot, which would put the price of a 2,000-square-foot residence at $800,000 to $1 million.

Timing is important, Giannasca added.

While the New York real estate development firm has secured financing for the $100 million project, he said, the money is subject to rising interest rates that could make the project even more costly.

He declined to discuss the financing package, put together by L.I. Square's chairman, Phil Pilevsky.

Other hotel developers are seeking to build downtown, but a local study shows a danger of too many hotel rooms for the market. Giannasca said the Ritz-Carlton would be top tier and wouldn't compete with the other projects.

The design reviewers and community leaders at the design panel meeting reiterated old concerns about the height and appearance of the project, and the extent to which it would impede the views from historic Federal Hill of the water.

Dick Leitch, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, read the height rules to the developers and said he wanted to talk about them more.

Design panel members also expressed concern that the entrance would not be adequate for the volume of cars expected and that certain plans and renderings weren't developed enough for them to have an idea of what to expect.

Developers said they'll continue talks with residents and city officials as they refine their plans.

Giannasca said the team will seek City Council approval this year of an amendment to the Inner Harbor urban renewal plan to permit construction of condominiums on the property.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.