Excess request

November 08, 2005

When a project with the pricey pedigree of the Four Seasons comes looking for a public handout, it's hard not to feel outraged - and insulted. The developers have told Baltimore officials they intend to seek public assistance to build the tony hotel-condominium complex on a parcel in Harbor East, an area already home to one of the city's most successful hotels, waterfront condos, an organic food market and restaurants. Is there something wrong with this picture?

The Baltimore project is the baby of two of the city's biggest names: Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse and John Paterakis Sr.'s H&S Properties Development Corp. The third partner is contractor-developer Ronald H. Lipscomb. The leading partners have contributed greatly to the city over the years. Both have taken risks to better the city and benefited as a result. Both are successful and have profited handsomely. But that was then and this is now. In this business climate, the $180 million Four Seasons project should be able to stand on its own.

The city should no longer have to entice - or beg - developers to build downtown, and certainly not along the waterfront. Public financing has been critical to the downtown and Inner Harbor renaissance; some of the development projects in Harbor East, including Mr. Paterakis' Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, have received such financing in the past decade. But in recent years, Baltimore development officials have started to slow the flow of public dollars to such projects, especially on or near the waterfront, because the economics and development climate no longer require it. Today, public financing should have another purpose.

The public's money should be reserved for projects that can extend the city renaissance beyond downtown. It should benefit projects that can leverage private investment for new housing, business development and job creation.

The Baltimore Development Corp.'s board shouldn't have to think twice about a public financing request for the Four Seasons project. If the developers have good reasons to need a handout, they haven't said so thus far. But if city officials need a reason to say no, they should look across the harbor from the Four Seasons site, where the Ritz-Carlton, another luxury condominium complex, is rising. Its developers managed to do it on their dime.

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