Calling the plans ill-suited to the site, the city’s design review panel on Thursday rejected schematic designs for a 15-story hotel in Middle East as part of the 88-acre East Baltimore Development Inc. project.
Members of the Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel were critical of the hotel’s design, its placement on a parcel adjacent to the proposed $12 million, 8-acre Eager Park, and its lack of any real link to that public space.
The proposal — by architectural firm Gensler in partnership with executives at the Johns Hopkins Hospital — calls for the hotel to be built on one side of the site at Ashland Avenue and Wolfe and Eager streets. There, it would camouflage a hulking concrete cooling tower in the next block south, which provides energy for the Hopkins hospital complex. A smaller, semi-private green space was designed for the other side of the hotel parcel, adjacent to 21,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space on a two-story shelf overlooking Eager Park
“It seems like it’s designed backwards,” said Gary A. Bowden, a UDARP member. “There is no relation to the park … the design is not engaged in the park.”
Bowden added: “I wish you had come to us earlier and talked to us. We could have been part of a dialogue and not such spoilers.”
Fellow UDARP member David Haresign agreed.
“You bet the ranch that it was going to be OK, and it’s not OK,” he said.
Diane Jones-Allen, a UDARP member, said the design of the retail “walls” isolated the hotel from the community.
“Where’s the neighborhood? Where’s the children?” she asked.
Members also raised questions about the two-story retail space, saying that leasing such bi-level space in Baltimore historically has been difficult.
“The only kind of retail that has turned up in those places is 7-Elevens,” Bowden said.
Jim Camp, managing director of Gensler, appeared stunned after the meeting and said the schematics would have to be remade. He did not have a time frame, he said, to return to UDARP with the new plans.
“We have to regroup,” Camps said. “We’re not discouraged. We’ll move ahead.”
The EBDI hotel was designed to be an “extended stay” property, mainly for “special needs users” who may be coming to Hopkins for medical treatment, the architectural team told the panel on Thursday.
Hopkins executives had worked in a partnership with the developers on the hotel’s plans and had endorsed them before they were unveiled Thursday, Camp said.
As designed, the hotel would include a conference center and meeting rooms as well as a rooftop bar and lounge that will stretch indoors and out with a fire pit.
It would be built on land that once held rowhomes where Middle East residents once lived.
As part of the massive EBDI project, at least 732 households have been relocated and more than 670 homes and buildings in the footprint have been razed. EBDI, with partners Hopkins and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said the area was to be converted to a world-class private biotech park with about 2,200 new residential units.
To date, though, only one biotech building has been built. The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is building a new lab at the direction of Gov. Martin O’Malley, who spearheaded the EBDI project in 2001 while he was mayor of Baltimore.
Another building opened at the site last year, a 20-story graduate student tower for Hopkins students. A public charter school is also under construction, to be run by Hopkins, set to open in 2014.
Plans to build Eager Park and the hotel were added to the EBDI blueprints after the recession and a series of staff changes and management setbacks derailed the project from its original intent.
The UDARP earlier this month approved a schematic design for Eager Park, which is being built with state funds, beginning with a $1.2 million award by O’Malley in the governor’s supplemental budget during this year’s General Assembly session.
Further public funds for the park will come from Program Open Space, a state land preservation program.
The hotel is expected to break ground in spring 2014 with completion expected within 30 months, Camp said.
It is being developed by LSH Gateway, a private group that includes developers Ronald H. Lipscomb and Owen M. Tonkins III, and Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, master developer of the $1.8 billion EBDI project.
Colorado-based Hensel Phelps will be the contractor, Camp said.
Lipscomb, owner of the defunct Doracon Contracting Inc., once dated former Mayor Sheila Dixon and agreed to cooperate in her 2009 corruption prosecution as part of his own plea deal that June for violating campaign finance laws. He was also fined $25,000 and given a suspended sentence.
Tonkins was Baltimore’s director of minority business development, a cabinet-level position in O’Malley’s mayoral administration, from March 2001 until December 2003.
As of Thursday, the EBDI hotel’s corporate flag was still under negotiation, Camp said.
“Some of the rooms will have an urban feel, and some of the rooms will have a park-like feel,” said Gensler architect Raffael Scasserra, referring to the vista from the glass tower. “We’re really about trying to create a presence.”