Cordovan Business Journals, a Houston firm that publishes weekly business newspapers in 10 cities, says it plans to start its 11th paper this spring to serve the Washington-Baltimore market.

The tabloid, to be called Washington Business Journal, will debut with a preview edition on April 26 and will begin regular publication on May 17, Cordovan President Bob Gray announced yesterday.

The new journal will be a paid-circulation paper selling for $26 a year, Gray said. Its editorial director will be Dexter Hutchins, a former Washington correspondent for Business Week and editor for Venture Magazine.

Gray founded a business weekly in Houston in 1971 and 10 years later sold to E. W. Scripps Co. the Cordovan publishing empire that now includes 10 regional business papers, two trade publications and two special interest magazines.

The Scripps company owns the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain and is majority owner of the United Press International wire service.

A year ago Cordovan signed a tentative agreement to buy the Business Review of Washington from Fairfax publisher William Graff.

But that deal fell through a few weeks later for reasons neither party will discuss. Gray now says he plans to start a paper from scratch.

If it gets off the ground, Cordovan's Washington Business Journal will be the fourth specialized business publication in the Washington area.

Graff's Business Review of Washington was started as the Fairfax Business Monthly, switched to weekly publication and broadened its market in 1978 and now claims a circulation of about 14,000. Last July when The Washington Star revealed it was closing, Graff announced he would make his weekly into a local business daily after Labor Day, but that hasn't happened.

Publisher William Regardie puts out a magazine called Regardie's Washington Business that is geared heavily to the commercial real estate market. Regardie, who publishes a free-circulation flyer called New Homes Guide, began his magazine as Regardie's Washington Real Estate, then turned it into a general interest business magazine.

Regardie's magazine has experienced growing pains in the past year, but recently rehired publisher Randy Bartow, who was credited with much of its initial success.

The Washington Post began its Washington Business section as a tabloid insert in Monday editions in April 1980. Since then, Washington Business has outstripped advertising projections and served as the prototype for local business tabloid sections in several other newspapers.

Gray said Cordovan soon plans to start a direct-mail subscription drive for its new Washington paper and is beginning to recruit a staff.

Launching of the new paper will be directed by Mike Weingart, Cordovan's associate publisher and the founding editor of Houston Business Journal.

The new paper, Gray said, will closely follow the format Cordovan has used to create clones of the Houston paper in San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Seattle and Pittsburgh.

"Just as we've done in these other cities, Cordovan is bringing to this area a hometown business newspaper," said Gray. "We want to emphasize that this will not be a national newspaper."

A former newspaper reporter, Gray began publishing Horseman Magazine in his garage in 1960. A decade later, Gray founded the Houston business paper, which he claims is "the most successful of its kind in the nation." Cordovan also publishes a regional fishing magazine and two trade magazines, one for the jet cargo industry, the other for retailers of Western style clothing.