In 2008, construction was completed on the 757-room Baltimore Hilton, a $305 million publicly-funded hotel spearheaded by Baltimore’s mayor at the time, Martin O’Malley. The hotel, in seven years of operation, has never turned a profit. The best year of operation saw a $2.9 million loss.
“It’s the biggest boondoggle ever. It’s hemorrhaging money every year and has less-than-stellar performance,” Democratic Maryland state Sen. James Brochin told The Daily Caller.
Originally intended to draw revenue from a supposed untapped convention market in Baltimore, the Hilton Hotel project slowly began losing money when conventions passed on Baltimore for other locations such as Austin, Texas and nearby Washington, D.C.
In July 2005, more than three years after the plan was finalized, it was still facing opposition in the city council. Of the 15 council members, only three said they believed the hotel would actually help the city.
“In my district, I can’t get funding to fix vacant houses,” Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke told The Baltimore Sun in 2005. “I’m worried about the financing and the kind of precedent this is setting.”
After O’Malley pushed the hotel vote to pass with the council, The Sun reported that this, the “costliest public project in Baltimore history” may see the fate of other cities’ failed publicly funded hotel ventures, such as St. Louis, Omaha, and Overland Park, Kan., “all cities that used public money to build hotels. Failing hotels.”
“The government shouldn’t be in the business of owning businesses. It was a catastrophic economical mistake by O’Malley, and the whole thing is ridiculous,” said Brochin.
O’Malley’s hotel, which he claimed in 2005 to be “risk-free,” is now entering its seventh year of public losses, the Sun reported earlier this year.
Even in times of great profit for the city, the hotel has weighed it down. In 2014, 2.4 million fans were drawn to Camden Yards when the Orioles took home the AL East pennant and, even though the hotel is situated directly adjacent to the stadium, it reported losses of $5.6 million.
Jan Freitag, a vice president with the Tennessee-based firm Smith Travel Research, told the Sun 2014 was a banner year for hotels across the country, including Baltimore, which saw a 7.9 percent growth in hotel revenue. Yet the Hilton’s losses persisted.
In a 2008 sports column in The Washington Post, Thomas Boswell used the Hilton Hotel’s burgeoning construction to illustrate the sadness of the Orioles as a whole. He described the sadness of their opening day loss as “begin[ning] their season as expected — in the utter misery of a complete rebuilding program,” referring to the ball club and the city of Baltimore.
Boswell continues: “The Hilton Convention Center Hotel next door, when finished, may merely be ugly. However, in its current state, with huge random splotches of yellow, white and blue, it’s like a cruel cubist joke. Forever, it will dominate the horizon and block views of the … adored Bromo Seltzer Tower … lording [its] eyesore [self] over previously perfect Camden Yards.”
A request for comment to the O’Malley campaign went unreturned.