The $130 million Four Seasons hotel and residence project, billed as an "urban resort," at Harbor East received preliminary approval from the city's design panel yesterday, opening the way for construction to start.
Plans are to break ground by the end of summer and to open as early as 2006.
Members of Baltimore's Design Advisory Panel praised the work done by Hill Glazier Architects of Palo Alto, Calif., in simplifying the design of the project, which is to feature 200 hotel rooms, 26 to 28 condominiums, spa facilities and retail space.
"This is a critical building for the city," said Michael S. Beatty, principal and vice president of H&S Properties Development Corp. "It's seen from all over."
The 23-story hotel development, to be located adjacent to the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel within the 20-acre Harbor East community, is a project of H&S, Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, and Doracon Contracting President Ronald Lipscomb.
Beatty started negotiating with Four Seasons to bring a hotel to Baltimore more than three years ago.
Although the project's design has not changed substantially from earlier versions, its base did shrink from three stories to two.
"As you said last time, the base had become unnecessarily complicated," Robert C. Glazier, principal with Hill Glazier Architects, told the panel. "On the faM-gade, we decided to add a very simple curve that faces out to the Inner Harbor."
The building's base will be clad in granite blocks and brick, with upper levels that are light and glassy.
"I think some of the simplification is a great improvement," said Mark Cameron, one of the panel members.
Satisfied with the main elements of the project, panel members turned to landscaping details.
"As a landscape architect, I would consider eliminating the trees around the central circle and coming in," Cameron said. "The space is very narrow, and I think the trees would be very inconsequential. They would be spindly things."
Cameron also said he thought that removing the trees would help differentiate the road that leads into the hotel and ends in a circle, from nearby tree-lined Aliceanna and President streets which are open to through traffic.
If not trees, then some other form of greenery could be used, suggested panel member Mario Schack.
Even as the Four Seasons project advances, a rival Ritz-Carlton hotel and condominium project across the water appears to be stalled. That project, in the works for more than three years, is proposed for the foot of Federal Hill by Giannasca Development Companies LLC.
The Waterfront Coalition, a citizens' group that monitors harborfront development and has raised concerns about height limits in the past, appears to have resigned itself to the Four Seasons plans.
"We've really sort of given up on Harbor East," Carolyn Boitnott, a member of the Waterfront Coalition, said in an interview yesterday. "We were very much enamoured with the initial design for the Inner Harbor East site in the late '80s or early '90s. But it kept getting chipped away at. It was very nice - much more residential, but mixed use."
Under that earlier proposal, long before the Four Seasons project was conceived, the highest building would have been 13 stories and the buildings stepped down to six stories on the waterfront, Boitnott said.
"We think the cumulative effect of all the dense development is harmful to the Fells Point and Canton historic communities," she said. "Now we're just hoping to get everything from Central Avenue east to fit in more with the historic area."