|By June Arney, The Baltimore Sun
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 16, 2006 - Downtown Baltimore will get a second Sheraton hotel when the 707-room Wyndham Baltimore Inner Harbor takes on a new flag by year's end.
The 27-story twin towers will operate as the Sheraton City Center after an overhaul of the hotel's rooms and public spaces, officials said yesterday. The property, at 101 W. Fayette St. in Charles Center, is just a few blocks north of the Sheraton Inner Harbor at 300 S. Charles St.
The reflagging will be the property's fourth brand, after previously operating as a Hilton and an Omni. It's now the city's second-largest hotel, after the 750-room Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, but will drop to third once a 756-room convention hotel opens in 2008.
Renovations are to begin Aug. 1, said Chris Phillips, the Baltimore Wyndham's general manager.
The hotel, which opened as the 352-room Baltimore Statler Hilton Hotel in 1967, was a key piece of the city's early renewal efforts, said Martin Millspaugh, who then headed Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management Inc., the city's urban renewal agency. When renewal plans were first drawn up, downtown's economy was sagging and hotel occupancy was under 50 percent, he said.
Hilton concluded a convention hotel would not succeed but agreed to a hotel aimed at business travelers, betting the new office towers rising in Charles Center would bring customers.
"It was a linchpin, a major turning point," Millspaugh said. "It gave the city credibility in business circles. Businessmen would have avoided being left overnight in Baltimore. Now they could look forward to staying. That was very good for business and for Baltimore's image."
Columbia Sussex Corp. of Fort Mitchell, Ky., acquired the Baltimore property in October along with 13 other full-service hotels from Wyndham International Inc.
"Columbia Sussex is committed to creating a quality representation of a Sheraton brand here in Baltimore," Phillips said. "They're committed to putting in the money and doing the renovations to do that."
A spokeswoman for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. said the Sheraton Inner Harbor would continue to operate as a Sheraton after the Wyndham's conversion.
"We think that the Baltimore market can easily support two Sheratons," K.C. Kavanagh said at Starwood headquarters in White Plains, N.Y. "The other hotel is a smaller hotel that caters to individual business travelers. They'll both fly the Sheraton flags. That's far from unprecedented."
Orlando, Fla., Atlanta, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Mexico City are among the cities that currently have multiple Sheratons, she said.
Columbia Sussex will own and operate the Sheraton City Center, and Starwood will franchise it under the Sheraton flag, Kavanagh said. Starwood will retain its position as manager and operator of the Sheraton Inner Harbor, she said.
"We think they'll enhance one another, attract larger convention business - for instance, we could use one for overflow - and we could market them together," Kavanagh said.
The switch to the Sheraton flag will be good for Baltimore, said Rod Petrik, a Baltimore-based managing director and hotel analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co.
"Sheraton, which is a Starwood brand, is a much stronger brand - with their reservation system, the Internet system and, more importantly, their Starwood Preferred Guests system," he said. "Those programs make up close to 40 percent of all their reservations."
After its recent bankruptcy and sale to the Blackstone Group, the Wyndham brand is not what it once was, he said. "Wyndham is at best a broken brand," Petrik said. "It's more a collection of assets than a brand."
But while good news for the city's tourist trade overall, it may not be for Sheraton Inner Harbor, which is controlled by Baltimore businessman Willard Hackerman, head of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co.
"If I'm the owner of the Sheraton [Inner Harbor], I'm not happy," Petrik said. "You have a loyalty program, and if I'm the existing Sheraton, I'm the Starwood Hotel of choice in Baltimore."
The one-time Hilton switched to the Omni brand in 1984. Wyndham bought the property in 1998 when the company merged with Patriot American Hospitality Inc. It was converted to a Wyndham in September 2000.
The change in flag from Omni to Wyndham coincided with a $6 million upgrade to the property.
Through the years, the hotel has enjoyed its moments of fame - for instance, a 1980 presidential debate between Ronald Reagan and John B. Anderson occurred there. The fact that the hotel is Baltimore's only union hotel brings it categories of business that it wouldn't get otherwise.
In weeks, the Wyndham has a date with the Miss USA Pageant beauties when the contest returns to Baltimore for a second year.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Baltimore Sun
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