The first guest to lay his head on a pillow at the new Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel will likely find a Belgian chocolate mint near the turned-down covers - one of 7,200 mints ordered in advance of this week's opening.
But it takes far more than mints to unveil a major hotel. Furnishings include 27,540 white towels and washcloths, 25,000 plates, 18,000 individually wrapped bars of soap, 10,000 pens engraved with the company logo, 1,326 down comforters, 762 clock radios, 760 wall-mounted hair dryers and 286 velour bathrobes.
The budget for supplies runs 75 pages, totaling $6.3 million, and includes porcelain china imported from Germany and Italy, and items ranging from coffee mugs to trash can doilies to high chairs that required 38 tractor-trailer loads to deliver. Many of the items were ordered as much as eight months ago.
There is more to the new Marriott than numbers. The $130 million hotel rises 32 stories above the harbor, at the edge of Little Italy, providing spectacular water views from each of its 750 rooms and suites and features the largest grand ballroom in the state - 19,360 square feet.
Carpeting and walls are of rich, bold colors. The two-story lobby is done in marble and trimmed with gold leaf. But the hotel's drama comes, too, from the light that streams through walls of glass that overlook the water.
Its opening, at 700 Aliceanna St., marks the first major new hotel for Baltimore in a decade and represents the culmination of five years of work and turmoil. The hotel is the dream of one man, Baltimore businessman John Paterakis Sr.
"It has been a long, hard ride," Paterakis said last week. "Fortunately, Mayor Schmoke and Mayor O'Malley saw the advantage of building this hotel. I'm grateful to both for believing that I could deliver a four-star hotel to Baltimore."
But Paterakis' dream wasn't fulfilled easily. Indeed, the project was born in controversy.
In 1996, Baltimore Development Corp. put out a request for proposals for a large downtown hotel near the convention center, which had just undergone a $151 million expansion. The success of that center, many said, was contingent on more hotel rooms being available. And a Legg Mason Realty Group Inc. feasibility study commissioned by former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said that 1,000 additional rooms were optimum.
Schmoke stunned leaders
With just four of the nine BDC board members voting, the Paterakis project won over proposals for an 800-room Westin on the former site of the News American building and a then-unidentified 800-room hotel a few blocks east on Pratt Street.
Schmoke stunned many business leaders by choosing the Paterakis proposal for a hotel to be situated a mile from the convention center.
"I am deeply concerned that in five to 10 years, we could look back on this decision as very costly to the city, if ... convention center bookings are negatively affected because the distance of the hotel from the convention center is detrimental," complained then-BDC Chairman Roger C. Lipitz, who recused himself from the vote because he had a business relationship with a competing developer.
Paterakis, convinced that his hotel would succeed, began bankrolling the project with his personal fortune. Owner of the $800 million-a-year H&S Bakery business, Paterakis wrote millions in personal checks before outside financing was secured. Without him, most agree, the project never would have been built.
Before the hotel could open, it was the subject of three lawsuits; 16 floors had to be lopped off, taking it from 48 stories to 32; and it came under three different flags: Hilton, Wyndham and, finally, Marriott.
Now, only four days before the hotel opens, few doubt that it will be successful. Already, 127,000 rooms have been booked through 2003 - surpassing a sales force pledge last summer that 115,000 rooms would be booked by opening day. In addition, another 473,000 rooms have either been booked tentatively or are prospects, Marriott officials said.
"I just don't see this new hotel failing," said Mary Jo McCulloch, president of both the Maryland Hotel and Motel Association and the Maryland Tourism Council. "It has a tremendous amount of strength behind it with the Marriott name. I don't think we're going to see any problems filling these rooms."
The Marriott name is a powerful draw, said Peter Komar, general manager at the Holiday Inn Inner Harbor. "They have a proven ability to move group business from city to city," he said. "They can bring business to this city that otherwise would have gone to Virginia or even a different part of the country. There will be people coming to Baltimore as a result of that hotel that have never been here before."
There is a lot at stake with the opening of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel:
What will happen to the existing downtown hotels that have enjoyed high occupancy and room rates in the past few years?