Senate committee kills Convention Center plan Vote of 5-5 blocks $150 million expansion project.

August 21, 1991|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Evening Sun Staff

Wednesday's editions of The Evening Sun incorrectly reported state Sen. Laurence Levitan's vote on a proposal to fund design plans for an expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center. Levitan voted in favor of funding the design.

A $150 million plan to expand the Baltimore Convention Center has ground to a halt after the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee refused to release funds to design the addition.

A move to release the funds failed on a 5-5 vote yesterday, after legislators spent an hour debating the prudence of starting a multimillion-dollar state project at a time when tax revenues are sagging and other projects have priorities.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The expansion would have been financed through the sale of $125 million in revenue bonds.

After the vote, Robert S. Hillman, chairman of the Baltimore Convention Center Authority, said he was "disappointed, but frankly not surprised."

"Several of the legislators are absolutely opposed to anything that could affect the city of Baltimore. What we lost . . . is over $200 million going into the state's economy. And what is going to happen is that the current convention center will begin to lose business," said Hillman.

While committee Chairman Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, cast the tying vote that essentially killed the project, state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-City, also voted against it.

Like some other legislators, Lapides said he was concerned about an offer from developer Richard A. Swirnow to provide hTC $425,000 toward the design work in return for "air rights" over the expansion. The air rights would allow construction of a 1,000-room hotel on the site.

The state had agreed to pay $850,000 toward the design if the city and a private source each donated $425,000 for the balance. Swirnow's offer would meet the private funds requirement, but some legislators didn't like the strings attached.

"Taking money from one person who is trying to get a leg up on a construction project in Baltimore is not what the legislature envisioned,"Lapides said. "It is wrong to take [money] from a person who really wants something in return."

In addition, Swirnow wants to build a $600 million medical mart on a site next to the convention center and east of the new Camden Yards baseball stadium. The Medmart would include an international life sciences center and a conference center that would take advantage of the Baltimore Convention Center as part of the complex.

In a July 15 letter, Swirnow stated, "We hope that we could count on support from the [Convention Center] Authority . . . to be selected by the state of Maryland to develop and own the Medmart on the Camden Yards East site."

Thomas Marudas, vice president of the Swirnow group, disputed the charge that the firm's offer to help pay for the design work was an inducement to get state backing for the Medmart and the hotel.

Marudas said Parkway/Swirnow would have sought a return of the $425,000 if the state had decided not to proceed with the expansion project after the design phase had been completed.

State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-City, vice chair of the committee, said the issue "is not dead" and that the panel, which was missing three members, may reconsider it after Labor Day.

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