TV network founder to buy downtown hotel

Johnson, once in line to oversee city project, will buy Marriott Residence Inn from Urgo

September 22, 2005|By June Arney | June Arney,Sun reporter

Robert L. Johnson, the Black Entertainment Television co-founder whose leading role in building a Baltimore convention hotel has become uncertain, is buying the new Marriott Residence Inn downtown, Baltimore Development Corp. officials said yesterday.

The 188-unit hotel, at Light and Redwood streets, is owned by Bethesda developer Urgo Hotels and opened its doors in July. It is about four blocks northeast of the Baltimore Convention Center.

"It's a good thing," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the BDC. "It's more investment in the city."

Brodie's comments came after the city's Board of Estimates approved the transfer of tax breaks awarded the Marriott Residence Inn in 2002 and a profit-sharing agreement to one of Johnson's companies, RLJ Urban Lodging Fund Acquisitions LLC.

Also yesterday, the board consented to an increase of $1.5 million in the construction loan for the project.

James P. O'Hare, an attorney with McGuire Woods LLP who represents Urgo Hotels, said yesterday that he could not discuss a possible sale until it is completed. Johnson's office did not return calls yesterday and his attorney could not be reached for comment.

Johnson's RLJ Development LLC of Bethesda, along with partner Quadrangle Development Corp., had initially proposed building a convention hotel just north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and the team's proposal was selected after city officials decided on a publicly financed project. But last month, Brodie said there was no guarantee that RLJ-Quadrangle would be selected as the construction monitor. If the team were not chosen, it might not be reimbursed for $700,000 worth of preliminary work, Brodie said. The $700,000 is part of the $1.8 million fee RLJ-Quadrangle is seeking to oversee the project.

Johnson, who sold BET to Viacom Corp. for $3 billion in 2001, owns more than a dozen Hilton and Marriott hotels, including the Courtyard by Marriott in Baltimore's Inner Harbor East.

RLJ Development is building three hotels: a Hilton in Norfolk, Va., a Hampton Inn in Denver and a Homewood Suites in Houston. In mid-July, Johnson proposed a privately financed convention hotel with unspecified public subsidies in Washington.

The 15-story Marriott Residence Inn in Baltimore, an extended-stay hotel, offers studios and one- and two-bedroom suites with kitchens and is aimed primarily at business travelers. The hotel also offers a fitness center, store, library, business center and valet parking.

"It's a product that's new to the city, and we've found a lot of success with it," said Kim Clark, the BDC official who oversees development in the city's eastern half. "It's going very well so far. They've been full since they opened up."

The average stay in such properties is 27 days, Clark said.

june.arney@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

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