City gets bids for hotel near convention hall

755-room Westin, 750-room Hilton among plans studied

Big names in the mix

Robert L. Johnson, actor Will Smith await Baltimore decision

February 11, 2003|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore could get a Hilton, a Westin or another large hotel next to the city's convention center by 2006, according to development teams that include such heavyweights as actor Will Smith and Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson in proposals submitted yesterday.

The bids will be reviewed and a development team chosen in coming months by the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm that requested the proposals for a city-owned parcel between the Camden Yards sports complex and the Baltimore Convention Center.

BDC released the list of bidders after business hours yesterday, but three proposals were described by their developers earlier in the day.

Based on interviews and information provided by the BDC, the list includes:

Dallas-based Garfield Traub Development LLC, a real estate development company that has built convention hotels, and Baltimore-based developer Otis Warren & Co. The proposal includes a 755-room Westin hotel with 600 parking spaces and 54,457 square feet of meeting and ballroom space.

A second proposal from this group includes the hotel as well as a new 19,000-seat arena, offices and the headquarters for Catholic Relief Services, which had previously asked the city to use the parcel for its new offices.

The proposal would be paid for with tax-exempt bonds that require public ownership of the hotel.

Atlanta-based Portman Holdings LP, one of the nation's largest convention hotel developers, submitted a plan for a hotel that also includes other entertainment aspects. The team also will include Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Treyball Development, owned by actor Will Smith and his brother Harry. No brand name was included.

The hotel would include 869 rooms with 592 parking spaces, 55,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space, a 36,000- square-foot soundstage and recording studio, a wellness clinic and spa.

The hotel would be paid for with private financing, tax-increment financing that dedicates future tax receipts to the development or through sale of tax-exempt bonds, depending on the city's preference.

RLJ Development LLC, the Bethesda-based company led by Robert Johnson, and Washington-based Quadrangle Development Corp. submitted a proposal for a Hilton. The developers also would build the 200,000- square-foot headquarters for Catholic Relief Services on the grounds. A financing method was not identified.

The proposals included 750 rooms, 1,000 parking spaces and 75,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom spaces. A second phase would add 400 hotel rooms and a 200,000-square-foot hotel-office-residential building.

All of the development teams include significant minority participation, which the city made clear it preferred. All would meet or exceed the minimum 750-hotel-room requirement. None revealed development costs.

The city helped RLJ craft its proposal and announced the plans for a Hilton during a November press conference at City Hall. But city officials insisted that the selection of a development team would be a fair process.

The city extended the deadline to submit a proposal by two weeks at the request of developers who wanted to apply, M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said last month.

Brodie declined to discuss the proposals yesterday.

Developers promoted their own experience and vision yesterday.

Ray Garfield, president of Garfield Traub, said Starwood Hotels, the parent company of Westin and Sheraton brands, had asked the company to team up.

"Starwood wanted a vehicle to compete for development of a convention headquarters hotel in Baltimore, so we've done that," he sad. "We've assembled a blue-ribbon team interested in delivering a terrific hotel. ... We're hoping this is not a closed process and that all firms will be considered. We think we have a great track record."

Robert C. Hazard III, a consultant on the Portman team, echoed those sentiments about an open process.

He said his team has the most experience in building convention hotels. Team members also have a vision of extending the entertainment base west of the Inner Harbor, although he would not be specific.

"Our development team has built more large hotels than anyone else on the planet. Portman has over $3 billion in large hotels including about half of the country's hotels over 1,000 rooms outside Las Vegas and Orlando. When it comes to experience in big hotels, nobody is better."

Hazard said the team planned on seeking a brand name for the hotel later in the process.

As for the RLJ proposal, there were no significant changes from the proposal outlined during the City Hall press conference, according to Tom Baltimore, an official with the company.

No financing mechanism was provided at the time, and the city would not say how much it would pay for - although officials have acknowledged they will subsidize the hotel project because of the tough lending environment.

"We're just delighted to submit our response and look forward to the process," said Baltimore. "We think we have a strong and capable team assembled."

The proposals do not ensure a hotel will be built - there are constraints such as availability of financing to overcome.

And the city has gotten this far before.

Orioles majority owner Peter G. Angelos proposed a $175 million Grand Hyatt in 1998, but that plan fizzled after two years of negotiations.

The lending environment has not improved much, especially for a large convention hotel the city said could cost up to $250 million.

The BDC did not say specifically when it would choose a developer.

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