Schaefer gives city ultimatum Convention Center funding split sought

December 29, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer Staff writer William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer gave Baltimore an ultimatum yesterday: Promise to pay one-third of the $150 million cost of expanding the city's Convention Center or kiss the project good-bye.

The governor said the city has until the first bell rings summoning the Maryland General Assembly into session Jan. 13 to make a verbal commitment.

"We need a commitment of $50 million from the city before the opening of the session. If we don't get that, the chances of getting the Convention Center in this session are about zero," Mr. Schaefer said.

The governor said he has contacted Baltimore officials but has not received a response.

L "I think they don't think we're serious," Mr. Schaefer said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke could not be reached for comment yesterday, and his legislative liaison, Peter N. Marudas, did not return repeated phone calls.

Mr. Schmoke's spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, said, "To the best of my knowledge, no one has talked to anyone in the mayor's office about deadlines and the figure of $50 million."

He said the city would have to sacrifice to come up with $50 million for the project, which it would borrow by issuing bonds.

"To the best of my knowledge, the city is not in a position to issue that kind of debt without delaying other projects that are important to Baltimore's neighborhoods," he said.

According to a powerful state delegate from Baltimore, the governor and the mayor have not been able to agree so far on issues related to the Convention Center expansion.

The governor's announcement yesterday "is part of their continued posturing on this issue," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

A city government official interpreted the announcement similarly: "This could very well be the governor just stirring the pot, trying to bring some pressure on the mayor."

The mayor and the governor were never political allies and have feuded periodically in recent years.

The political stumbling block appears to be a seat on the Maryland Stadium Authority, which now oversees the Convention Center.

Mr. Rawlings said the governor promised the mayor and state lawmakers from Baltimore almost a year ago that the mayor could name a representative to the Stadium Authority.

However, Mr. Schmoke has not been allowed to do so yet.

The mayor "feels strongly that the commitments that were made be honored," Mr. Coleman said. The spokesman said he did not know whether the city would delay a financial commitment to the state because of that problem.

Mr. Schaefer believes the mayor cannot select a new member of the Stadium Authority because there are no vacancies now, said Joseph Harrison, a spokesman for the governor.

"We are aware of the mayor's concerns and sensitive to them. But right now there is no place to put an additional representative," Mr. Harrison said.

In the meantime, Mr. Harrison said, the governor believes it would be "virtually impossible" for him to include the convention center project in the state construction budget now being developed unless the city makes a financial commitment.

Mayor Schmoke has indicated that the city would be willing to contribute to the project, although he has not said how much, said Bruce H. Hoffman, executive director of the Stadium Authority.

"The mayor has pledged to come up with a financing plan at some point with the idea that the city would contribute," Mr. Hoffman said.

He said the governor arrived at the one-third/two-thirds funding split between the city and state based on a preliminary study of what each government would gain if the convention center were more than doubled in size.

Approximately $15.5 million in annual hotel and sales taxes would be generated by the center.

The city would collect about a third of that, or $5.5 million, while the state would get two-thirds, or $10 million, Mr. Hoffman said.

He said the center must expand because modern conventions require more space than the structure was built to accommodate in 1979.

Baltimore also faces stiff competition from cities that are building or planning bigger convention centers, such as Charlotte, N.C., and Philadelphia, Pa.

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