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East Baltimore hotel to break ground in December 2014

The city’s design review panel on Thursday questioned the wisdom of architects who have planned construction of a temporary public park on the grounds of a new hotel in the 88-acre East Baltimore Development Inc. project.

Designs for a new “gateway” hotel at the EBDI site were discussed by the Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel at City Hall as part of an ongoing review of that part of the $1.8 billion redevelopment of Middle East, an urban community just north of the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The first phase, a 194-room extended-stay hotel for Hopkins patients and their families, is expected to break ground in December 2014 and take two years to complete, said Edward S. Scott, an New York-based attorney hired by the hotel’s developer, LSH Gateway LLC.

Scott said after the UDARP meeting that financing for the hotel project had not been secured.

“Not at this point in time,” he said. “We’re in the early stage.”

Scott also said that a “Phase II” portion of the hotel project, which will produce a twin glass and metal tower with 100 boutique hotel rooms, is also planned, but it was uncertain when that would be built.

Instead, in its place, developers are proposing to build a small park that would be removed if and when the boutique hotel construction moves forward, Scott said.

That idea left some UDARP members scratching their heads.

“I hate to see you invest in a park that you are just going to tear out,” said UDARP member Gary Bowden. “It’s a lot to do about nothing.”

Another panel member, Diane Jones Allen, said the temporary park construction was akin to a bait-and-switch for the community members.

“Once it happens, it’s going to be used,” she said. “The people who use that park will use it and then it’s going to be gone. …You say there is no impact on people, but there is. … It’s not really good (public relations).”

Scott told the panel: “We want the space to work as it is. We don’t have a crystal ball and we don’t guarantee the timing.”

Of the temporary nature of the public park, which will complement the 8-acre Eager Park across Ashland Avenue from the hotel site, he added that the developer and the hotel’s partner, Johns Hopkins Hospital, were willing to make the investment.

The EBDI project began in 2001 as part of a redevelopment of Middle East. Originally planned to be an urban biotech park linked to Hopkins researchers, the project has stalled over the years and its mission has been retooled, even as more than 732 households have been relocated from the community and more than 670 homes and buildings have been razed.

EBDI is working with master developer Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership and partners Johns Hopkins, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the city. All have said their goal is to rebuild the community with a new charter school, Eager Park, office space and about 2,200 new residential units. Thus far, one biotech building is standing at the site and the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is constructing a new lab there.

Last year, a 20-story graduate student tower for Hopkins students opened at EBDI as the plans to build the publicly funded Eager Park were unveiled in a new master plan for the development.

The hotel is being developed by a private group that includes Ronald H. Lipscomb and Owen M. Tonkins III. Hensel Phelps, based in Colorado, will be the contractor.