Convention hotel recommendation is likely today

City development agency will choose a developer from among three teams

October 23, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Baltimore appears to be within days of picking a developer for a convention headquarters hotel intended to provide an important economic push to the city's struggling convention center.

M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., and its board are likely to make a decision today on which of three developers to recommend to Mayor Martin O'Malley.

After reviewing the recommendation of the city's quasi-public development agency, O'Malley is expected to award an exclusive negotiating agreement with the winning development team. The exact timing of the announcement is unclear.

"It all depends on when he gets the recommendation ... and whether he has follow up questions," Raquel Guillory, the mayor's press secretary, said yesterday.

From the beginning, the smart money has been on the development team that includes Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, and Quadrangle Development Corp. of Washington, led by Chairman Robert M. Gladstone.

Their project, announced in a City Hall news conference to great fanfare nearly a year ago, at least initially had O'Malley's blessing. The team even received the Baltimore Development Corp.'s help in putting together its proposal.

The hotel is expected to be built on two vacant blocks just west of the Baltimore Convention Center and north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, although one team offered an alternate site on a parking lot on Conway Street, just west of the Sheraton Inner Harbor.

Widely considered the runner-up is the Believe Team, which includes local businessman Otis Warren; Willard Hackerman, head of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. who controls the Sheraton Inner Harbor and a neighboring parking lot; and Baltimore architect Peter Fillat, who designed the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel.

Among that team's partners are Brennan Beer Gorman Monk (BBGM), hotel designers whose Peninsula Bangkok was rated the No. 1 hotel in the world by Travel & Leisure in August. Another partner, Garfield-Traub, also is an experienced developer of headquarters hotels - most recently delivering the 412-room Sheraton at the Convention Center in Overland Park, Kan. ahead of schedule and $1.5 million under budget, under a tax-exempt financing structure.

The team claims more than 100 hotels and offers the city the alternative of putting the headquarters hotel on a site near the Sheraton.

Yet, members of the Believe Team are less than optimistic.

"We understood that we were going up against a stacked deck," Warren said. "The mayor has personally assured me that the process will be fair, but he's one person. He doesn't have the time to listen to all the facts. He's going to take the advice of the people hired to run the BDC."

Warren also is troubled by the knowledge that Brodie helped the Johnson/Gladstone group put together its proposal.

"I know how it is when you're the author of something," Warren said. "Pride of ownership comes into play. We don't know what's going on behind the scenes. We have reason to be paranoid. The thing that concerns me is that I know Mr. Johnson was invited to the table. Once someone was invited, they may feel that they have some endowed rights. We were not invited. We responded to [a request for proposal]. We weren't put together by the system, and that isn't our fault."

He is adamant that his team has the best credentials.

"I feel like we're in an excellent position if everything is looked at objectively," he said.

The Believe Team's proposal is the only one that was born with a plan for public ownership and financing. Later, the city's development corporation asked all the teams to follow that lead and offer comparable proposals.

To date, discussions with the development candidates, debates over the merits of the various proposals and even the developers' final offers have been kept secret.

Brodie declined to be interviewed yesterday but said in a recent interview, "We're doing what we are supposed to be doing. It's not reasonable to have public meetings with folks when there are three complicated proposals on the table. It's our responsibility to try to sift through and recommend to the board and the mayor what we think. I'm clear in my own mind I'm being as objective and fair as I can be."

A third team appears to be last in the hotel race. The team is headed by Portman Holdings LP of Atlanta in partnership with Treyball Development Inc., a Beverly Hills, Calif., real estate company headed by actor Will Smith and his brother Harry.

The team drew the least enthusiasm from an advisory panel to the city development corporation, sources have said.

"If the BDC is hiring a developer to build a hotel that's going to be owned by the city, I hope they understand that they need to hire the most experienced developer who will take all the city's risk," said Robert C. Hazard III, a spokesman for the Treyball-Portman team.

"I would hope that the BDC would provide evidence that the developer they've recommended has the most experience."

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