Rhode Island is prime backer of convention center

October 13, 1991|By New York Times News Service

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The state of Rhode Island is the prime mover and investor in a $290 million convention center project now under construction in downtown Providence.

The state is not only financing the project but it will be the owner of a new hotel and of the landmark Biltmore Hotel, which it is buying from The Providence Journal Co.

State funding for a similar project in Baltimore -- expanding the convention center -- has been put on hold by legislators.

The Rhode Island project, managed by the quasi-public Convention Center Authority, is being financed with tax-free revenue bonds.

The authority, arguing that the recession had made it impossible to find a private hotel developer able to finance construction of a needed new hotel, got permission from the General Assembly this year to include the two hotels in the project.

The cost of construction of the new hotel and the purchase and partial renovation of the Biltmore is estimated at $90 million.

At the groundbreaking in June, Gov. Bruce G. Sundlun compared the convention center to the "pump-priming" projects of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Depression.

Construction is expected to generate about 1,500 jobs and, once the project is completed late in 1993, about 3,500 permanent jobs.

The project is expected to run a $9.3 million annual deficit, at least in the first few years, but the authority argues that the state will realize a net economic gain.

Figures prepared by Coopers & Lybrand, accountants, predict $50 million in tax revenue over the next 10 years and $600 million in tax revenue to both the state and Providence over the next 30 years.

The center will include a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall, 20,000-square-foot ballroom and 15,000 square feet of meeting space.

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