2 hotel projects receive key OKs

Design panel gives nod to convention facility

`We're pleased,' Brodie says

Landscape approval for Four Seasons

July 16, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's proposed 750-room convention hotel received preliminary approval from the city's Design Advisory Panel yesterday, paving the way for the estimated $200 million project just north of Oriole Park to move ahead with detailed architectural drawings and cost evaluations.

The panel also gave preliminary landscape approval to the Four Seasons hotel and condominium planned in Harbor East - a plan that would swallow up a popular waterfront restaurant from the Inner Harbor landscape.

Yesterday's go-ahead for the convention hotel project, considered essential by tourism officials to boost business at the adjacent Baltimore Convention Center, was welcomed by city officials after the panel sent designers back to the drawing board last month, noting various concerns.

"We're pleased to have that step," M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said of the approval.

Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, has the exclusive negotiating rights to build the proposed Hilton hotel through his firm RLJ Development LLC of Bethesda and Quadrangle Development Corp.

It is likely to be several months before the project, which city officials have said will be publicly financed, takes another major step forward, Brodie said.

"We need both to advance the design and the cost estimates," he said. "We want to come back with some confidence that here is a plan that has been costed out, that we can afford."

The panel last month raised questions about the amount of space the early plans allotted for a station beneath the hotel for a proposed high-speed magnetic levitation train, and about the use of public space and the type of bridge linking the hotel and convention center.

Baltimore-Washington is in contention with Pittsburgh for a $4.98 billion maglev train line that would serve as a prototype. The train, which rides on a magnetic field, would travel the 39 miles between the two cities in 18 minutes.

Yesterday, landscape architects outlined plans for several large public spaces to be built within the hotel complex.

"We feel like we've got a good amount of outdoor gathering space that ought to be comfortable in proportion to the size of the building," said Catherine Mahan, president of Mahan Rykiel Associates.

The design group appeared to be satisfied that adequate space had been allowed for the maglev station, but other concerns lingered. "It's a feeling of the group that the program still lacks spatial definition," said Mario Schack, a member of the panel. "We don't feel that the bridge has been resolved completely."

RTKL Associates Inc., the architects designing the hotel complex, had offered two ideas for a bridge to link the hotel with the convention center, one curved and one angled. But neither seemed to serve as the gateway element that panel members wanted to see in a feature that will be visible to so many.

As proposed, the hotel complex features a 25,000-square- foot grand ballroom and a 15,000-square-foot junior ballroom as well as restaurants and retail space. The goal is to open the project in spring 2007.

In granting preliminary landscape approval to the Four Seasons, the panel raised questions about playground equipment that was to be located on one of the terraces and recommended that it be restudied.

"I worry that it's going to be very visible from a very important point of public space," said Mark Cameron, a panel member. "I like the idea of doing it, but then it does introduce a vertical element at a very prominent corner."

The $130 million hotel and residence project, billed as an "urban resort," will feature a pool with a disappearing edge, a spa, and several restaurants.

As proposed, the Four Seasons project encompasses space currently occupied by the popular waterfront restaurant Victor's Cafe, located at 801 Lancaster St.

Victor's owner, Victor DiVivo, is not happy about the prospects of having to leave the restaurant that he pioneered about nine years ago - the first to open in Baltimore's Harbor East renewal area.

He has hired an attorney to help him in his dealings with H&S Properties Development Corp.

John Paterakis Sr.'s H&S is one of the developers along with Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse and Doracon Contracting President Ronald Lipscomb.

"I didn't come where I am to stay only six or seven years and then leave," DiVivo said in an interview yesterday.

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