Baltimore Travel Plaza to close, Greyhound to shift service to South Balto. terminal

Owner of 23-year-old travel plaza seeks new amenities for hotel

January 19, 2011|By Lorraine Mirabella, The Baltimore Sun

Greyhound Lines Inc. will discontinue bus service at one of two Baltimore terminals Tuesday, when the Baltimore Travel Plaza will close to make way for new amenities at the adjacent hotel.

The bus line will continue to offer Baltimore service from its terminal on Haines Street, off Russell Street, south of M&T Bank Stadium. Many of the 41 daily departures and arrivals at the travel plaza to be shut in East Baltimore also made stops at the Haines Street station.

Greyhound plans to add scheduled trips through the Haines Street station in the coming weeks, said spokeswoman Bonnie Bastian. Greyhound will honor passenger tickets for the travel plaza and provide shuttle service from the plaza to Haines Street for a few days after Tuesday's closing.

"Obviously, that location will be going away, but we provide a tremendous amount of service out of our downtown location, with access to routes all over the country," Bastian said. "If someone has purchased a ticket for travel after the 25th, we'll honor it and work to get them to their destination."

The owner of the 23-year-old travel plaza and hotel — a 175-room Best Western Hotel & Conference Center — did not renew the lease with Greyhound. Northstar Hotel Management is seeking alternate uses for the 14,000-square-foot terminal space, said Khaled Said, vice president of operations and representative for the New Jersey-based owner.

Greyhound's lease expired in 2009, but an agreement between the property owners and the bus operator allowed bus service to continue at the nearly 10-acre site off Interstate 95 at O'Donnell Street, he said.

"We're closing the travel plaza to create a better venue," Said said Wednesday.

Said said he is negotiating with potential tenants and hopes to bring in an upscale restaurant, nightclub or added meeting space before next summer's travel season. Such a use would fit well with Toby's Dinner Theatre, which the owner brought there in 2006 as part of a hotel remodeling.

The year-round dinner theater, which features Broadway-style shows such as "Annie," "42nd Street" and "Xanadu," has helped boost business during a difficult economy by drawing tour groups and out-of-town guests who come for shows and to visit the city.

"This space is a hidden gem," Said said.

Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, the city's convention and tourism agency, said he expects little impact from the closure of the travel plaza because Greyhound will continue service downtown. He said bus traffic in and out of the city has increased as competing lines, such as Megabus, have begun offering discount service.

"Obviously, we want to make sure we have bus traffic coming into the city, so I'm glad there's another entry point" for Greyhound, he said.

Greyhound passenger traffic nationally has remained steady over the past several years, Bastian said, with about 20 million per year.

A policy study by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University in Chicago found that U.S. bus ridership, which had been declining for more than four decades, rose 9.8 percent in 2008 as the recession set in.

The Baltimore Travel Plaza was built as a $20 million tourism center for bus groups on city-owned land in 1987 by the DeChiaro-Rachuba Group. It included the hotel, two restaurants, a service station, nightclub and the bus terminal, where Greyhound moved most of its service from its historic Howard and Centre streets terminal, which closed in August 1987.

Previous owners of the travel plaza have struggled financially. Two years after the plaza opened, DeChiaro-Rachuba tried to sell it at auction but rejected a high bid of $12 million. In 1992, the former Maryland National Bank, which held the debt on the plaza, bought it at a foreclosure auction for $2.85 million, far less than the developers owed.

H&S Bakery Inc. owner John Paterakis Sr. bought the travel plaza from the bank, then sold it in 1998. The travel plaza began losing money after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, according to a former minority owner, and again faced a foreclosure auction in 2004, which was canceled when the former owners filed for bankruptcy protection. Northstar Hotel Management bought the travel plaza six years ago.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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