Mayor Right To Stick With Hilton

Nov 14, 2013

Credit Tom Chalkley

We can all lament the Hilton Baltimore’s rude skyline interruption, but give up on the municipal adventure in hotel ownership? Way too late for that.  Like the recent Grand Prix racing escapade, we may have to be a bit entrepreneurial now and then.

Should the city have gone into the hotel business? Not in the best of all possible worlds. As the critics said, 'cities don’t do hotel.'

But.

If tourism anchor's today's city economy, some extraordinary maneuvers might be necessary. Such as providing a hotel with space enough for big conventions near enough to convention venues. Without one, fierce competition from other cities could eat our lunch – and breakfast and dinner.

The prospect of losing a critical revenue stream was too great for the city to stay out of the hotel business. Banks were saying no. They don’t like hotel investments. Too unpredictable, apparently. So the city stepped in.

Then came the Great Recession and an underperforming hotel. Losses of $70 million sent the city back to the financial drawing board. Still, Tom Noonan, CEO of Visit Baltimore, says the hotel made a robust competitor for convention business.

Various financial considerations make getting out of the hotel business prohibitively expensive. It might take a decade to escape the down years, the experts say, but staying the course seems to be the only real option. Mayor Rawlings-Blake would only make things worse by running away.  If the analysts are predicting a turnaround - and if the hotel is making Baltimore a stronger competitor - the city has to go for it.

There’s no standing pat. You move forward or you fall back.

Your comments are welcome at fsmith@wypr.org.