Panel fails to OK Convention Center expansion funds Deadlocked vote could dash hopes for '92 start on project

August 21, 1991|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- State lawmakers, at the close of a hearing that turned emotional at times, voted yesterday not to release money to design an expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center.

The vote by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee means that hope of a 1992 start for the expansion project, which would have nearly doubled the size of the 150,000-square-foot facility, is all but dead.

Committee Chairman Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, said that his panel might meet again and reconsider releasing the $850,000 "in a while," possibly this fall. Two of the three committee members who were absent from yesterday's vote, which ended in a 5-5 deadlock, have indicated support for the project.

But Robert S. Hillman, chairman of the Baltimore Convention Center Authority, said that he had hoped to seek permission from the legislature in January to sell about $150 million in revenue bonds to fund the expansion. He said that there would not be enough time to prepare the design package if the funds were not immediately available.

The General Assembly voted this year to pay for half of the design work if the Convention Center Authority tapped non-state sources for the rest. The city agreed to ante up $425,000, and a private developer, the Parkway/Swirnow Group Ltd., has offered donate an equal amount.

L Last month, a House subcommittee voted to release the funds.

But the senators viewed Parkway's offer of the $425,000 as an inducement to ensure that the company won state support for its plans to build a medical mart at the nearby Camden Yards stadium and a 1,000-room hotel on the valuable air rights above the expanded Convention Center.

The legislators also worried that a $150 million capital project, even one funded with bonds backed by the revenues from the facility, would push the state beyond its self-imposed spending limits and threaten Maryland's triple-A bond rating.

The Convention Center Authority has argued that the current facility has been a moneymaker for the state and that the expansion would bring in $200 million more a year. Further, without the expansion, Mr. Hillman said, Baltimore will continue to lose convention business to other cities in the region, such as Philadelphia, which is expanding its convention center to more than 500,000 square feet.

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