Having overseen a complex $200 million demolition and construction project at Camden Yards, the Maryland Stadium Authority has been given legislative permission to take on its next challenge: Supervising a vast expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center.
This is a crucial undertaking for the city. Without an enlarged Convention Center, downtown Baltimore's economy could be in trouble. Already, a number of large professional groups have decided not to come to Baltimore because convention and exhibition space is inadequate. Refusal to expand exhibition space would also be the death knell for the proposed giant medical trade mart south of Camden Station and a new 1,000-room hotel.
Baltimore can't afford to sit idly by while convention business goes elsewhere. Competition from Mid-Atlantic and northeastern cities is intense. Baltimore needs a facility that can house larger conventions, permit existing events to expand their shows and allow two conventions to use the center simultaneously. Also, without a bigger center, area hotels could experience hard economic times in the coming years.
The Maryland Stadium Authority is the right group to whip this proposal into shape. It won rave reviews from the governor and from legislators for bringing Oriole Park in on time and at the estimated cost. It knows how to supervise a huge construction project. Over the summer, authority director Bruce Hoffman will be working with design architects to come up with detailed renderings, firm cost estimates and a financing plan (most likely: state revenue bonds supported by the extra income from the expanded space, plus a back-up tax plan involving a surcharge on area hotels and motels).
Then comes the hard part -- persuading the legislature to back this project.
Earlier analyses indicated that a 1 million square foot convention center would produce close to $10 million in new tax revenue for the state. The expansion could also mean a go-ahead for the privately financed medical trade mart, which might cost $600 million and would offer new business ties to the convention center -- and 3,000 jobs.
Combined with the just-opened ballpark, an expanded convention center makes enormous business sense. It's what Baltimore requires to establish itself as a popular site for large trade shows and conventions. The economic boost to the entire region would be considerable. So would the tax benefits for the state. Officials at the stadium authority ought to push hard to win over legislators with solid evidence that this new undertaking has the potential to succeed in a big way. We think it will, if given a chance.