Light St. hotel kept on track

Developer says he won't wait for city tax break OK

Marriott Residence Inn

Construction to start by June, Urgo vows

other hotels stalled

February 15, 2002|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Even before getting final approval on a city tax break, the developer of a downtown Baltimore hotel said yesterday that he would begin construction in the spring - filling a year-old hole in the ground and joining a list of hotels planned in Baltimore.

City officials are pondering a 10-year tax break valued at $3.2 million, but Donald J. Urgo and Associates said that a 176-room Marriott Residence Inn will begin to rise from a fenced corner of Redwood and Light streets in May or June. It should take 18 months to build.

"We had expected to start construction in October, but the events of Sept. 11 caused our financier to require added security," said Kevin Urgo, vice president of development. "We've been working on this for four years. It's a shame it's not up and running already."

Kevin Urgo said the terrorist attacks and resulting tourism slump sent hotel lenders running, but he said they are beginning to return to some projects - albeit with larger demands. The project had been delayed prior to the attacks, which Urgo blamed on preservationists who didn't want the developer to knock down a building on the site. Urgo did last February, anyway, leaving a gaping hole downtown.

The city incentive, which could take two to three months to wind through the process, would boost returns on the extended-stay hotel and encourage the lender - whom Urgo would not name. Extended-stay hotels generally attract business people and tourists who need residence-like amenities such as kitchen appliances.

The city is littered with parcels that were once considered for hotels but faced financing or other troubles even before the terrorist attacks. Some projects are moving ahead, despite the economy, according to their developers.

The projects include a Hampton Inn and Suites at the corner of Redwood and Calvert by Focus Development LLC, an extended-stay hotel in Inner Harbor East by H&S Properties Development Corp., a hotel inside Pennsylvania Station by James M. Jost & Co. Inc. and a Ritz-Carlton hotel and condominium project near Federal Hill by L.I. Square Corp.

"The Ritz-Carlton Inner Harbor ... hotel and residential project continues to move forward," Edward V. Giannasca II, L.I. Square's president and chief executive, said in a statement. "We have received outstanding support from Baltimore's civic and business community and are looking forward to breaking ground shortly."

None of the hotel developers, however, has provided specific schedules or financing details, and it is unclear if all the hotels will be built.

Banker and businessman Edwin Hale plans another hotel on Canton's waterfront. He has petitioned the state to build a cruise ship terminal on the site and is holding off on the hotel until the fate of the terminal proposal is determined, he said yesterday.

Still other hotels have been scrapped at Lockwood Place and at the site of the former News American, both on Pratt Street. An option to buy a Light Street parcel once occupied by McCormick & Co. for a convention hotel by lawyer and businessman Peter Angelos has not been exercised, according to the Rouse Co., which controls the site.

A spokesman for Angelos said the economic timing is bad for a large convention hotel.

And a hotel planned as part of an office tower and parking garage on Redwood Street by developer J.J. Clarke Enterprises Inc. is not likely to be included in the project.

"We've pretty much determined that it's not an option," said J. Joseph Clarke.

Based on information about current hotel occupancy and room rates, Clarke said his numbers won't work and he does not want to hold up the rest of the already delayed project while the tourism industry recovers.

Andrew Frank, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, said all the hotels are welcome in a city trying to lure more visitors.

The BDC negotiated the tax break being considered for Urgo's hotel and does not anticipate a problem with its passage. Frank called it as a small deal for the developer, but crucial to its financing.

"We still believe we need a convention center hotel, but in the meantime we can support as many rooms as we can get," he said. "There really is no extended-stay hotel in the city, so we believe this is good for Baltimore."

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