City's design panel approves plan for convention headquarters hotel


Baltimore's proposed $305 million convention headquarters hotel won a key approval yesterday from a city design panel.

After more than a year of scrutiny, the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel gave final approval to the design by RTKL Associates for a 19-story, L-shaped tower that is to have 756 rooms, 62,000 square feet of meeting space and 550 parking spaces and alter the city skyline near Camden Yards and the Baltimore Convention Center.

The city must still arrange bond financing before it can start building the publicly owned Hilton downtown, but officials said yesterday that the hotel remained on track to open in 2008.

"My ambition was to have a hotel that would be a good neighbor to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and to Camden Station, which are two great landmarks, but to also have its own identity and to have a memorable image for folks who are going to come to town for the first time," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm that is overseeing the project.

The City Council approved plans for the hotel, the city's costliest public project ever, in August after months of intense debate over financing. The city will build and own the hotel, paying for it by issuing up to $305 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds.

The Hilton hotel chain will operate the hotel, to be called Hilton Baltimore.

Brodie said yesterday that the city is still in talks with bond-rating agencies Moody's and Standard & Poor's and hopes to get a favorable investment-grade rating. The city hopes to proceed with selling the bonds next month.

Yesterday's approval means the architects can now work on construction documents that can be used to build the hotel on two parcels bounded by Howard, Camden, Paca and Pratt streets.

Brodie described the lengthy design process as an evolution. Design panel members approved a preliminary design, signing off on the tower's location, height and layout of rooms, ballrooms and meeting rooms nearly a year ago.

The final version, approved yesterday, calls for a three-story brick-and-glass base, or podium, for the tower, of the same type of brick used for the ballpark.

"The first three levels are what people walking on the street will see, and we wanted to relate those very closely to Oriole Park at Camden Yards," Brodie said. "We wanted it to be very transparent, for people to look in and see inside."

The guest rooms, with an exterior of off-white and silver metal panels and glass, will appear to float above the podium, Brodie said. The hotel will include a public open space, with trees and benches outside the shops and restaurants expected to be part of the hotel.

Several panel members complimented the architects on making strides in improving the building's design from earlier concepts.

"We're very pleased with where you are and the effort you have made," Mario Schack, design panel member, said in granting the approval.

Other panel members, however, asked the architects to consider alternatives to a white metal panel system proposed for certain exterior walls. "I just feel this is a little drab," panel member Deborah Dietsch said about one wall that would be visible from the seats at Oriole Park.

Thom McKay, a vice president of RTKL, referred questions about the design to BDC officials. But he said, "We look forward to the hotel becoming a reality."

Sun reporter Ed Gunts contributed to this article.

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