Schaefer expected to end stalemate with Schmoke Convention Center expansion at stake

January 06, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is expected today to break stalemate with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke over plans for expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center, clearing the way for the project to be included in the coming year's budget, sources said.

Mr. Schaefer is expected to announce that he will name Mr. Schmoke's nominee to the Maryland Stadium Authority after accepting the resignation of William K. Hellmann, a former state transportation secretary and longtime member of the board, according to sources familiar with the plans.

Mr. Schaefer's refusal to name Mr. Schmoke's selection to the authority -- city Finance Director William R. Brown Jr. -- has been the political stumbling block to the mayor's agreeing to pay $50 million toward the $150 million project, which both government and business leaders agree is a necessity for the economies of the city and state.

Even if the money is included in the governor's budget, it still must be approved by the General Assembly. That may prove to be the most difficult task yet, given the political rift between the city and Montgomery and Prince George's County that developed during the special session held in November to cut the state budget.

Legislators from those counties have previously said that cutting money for the Convention Center is one way they might get revenge for city votes in support of budget cuts that hurt Prince George's and Montgomery the most.

In an interview last night, Mr. Schaefer refused to say what he planned to do, but he did acknowledge that he would have an announcement about the authority today.

Sources familiar with the governor's plans said he would be accepting Mr. Hellmann's resignation and appointing Mr. Brown.

"I have repeatedly advised the city administration that when there is a vacancy, an appointment would be made," Mr. Schaefer said. "I cannot understand how an appointment to the board would hold up such an important economic feature for the city and state."

He described Mr. Schmoke's refusal to make a commitment as "beyond my comprehension."

Asked whether Mr. Schmoke's resolve reminded him of himself, when as Baltimore's mayor he did battle with Gov. Harry R. Hughes, Mr. Schaefer said, "Not when it meant the forward movement of the city."

While Mr. Schmoke has not yet committed to $50 million, he had agreed to pay some of the cost -- provided Mr. Schaefer lived up to a promise earlier this year to put Mr. Brown on the authority, city and state officials say.

But Mr. Schaefer -- who makes no secret of fact that he does not care for Mr. Schmoke, his style or politics -- refused to make the appointment, leaving plans for the project in limbo for the last nine months.

Oddly enough, it is a project that both men want built.

The stand-off turned public last week, when Mr. Schaefer gave Mr. Schmoke an ultimatum: Either promise to pay a third of the project's cost, or forget it being included in this year's budget bill to be considered by the Maryland General Assembly.

But Mr. Schmoke has remained firm, letting Mr. Schaefer know that he was willing to let the project die unless the governor gave him his seat on the Stadium Authority.

"I have repeatedly asked the city administration for a $50 million commitment and received no reply," Mr. Schaefer said.

But the silence at City Hall and the prospect of losing the Convention Center expansion was apparently troubling enough for Mr. Schaefer to reluctantly accept Mr. Hellmann's resignation.

"Unless there's a substantial commitment by the city, there is no chance for this legislation passing," Mr. Schaefer said. "And unless you get that Convention Center this year, the longer you ** wait, the less chance you have of ever doing it. It's this year."

Mr. Hellmann, now a consulting engineer, did not return a reporter's phone calls.

Mr. Brown -- who sat on the Baltimore Convention Center Authority until last April, when it was disbanded so the Stadium ++ Authority could oversee the convention facility -- also did not return a reporter's phone calls.

Clinton R. Coleman, Mr. Schmoke's press secretary, said the mayor had not been advised of Mr. Schaefer's expected decision and could not comment.

State officials estimate that next year alone the city and state will miss out on $60 million in hotel and sales taxes, tourism dollars and other economic benefits, because larger conventions must book in other cities.

When the Convention Center first opened, it could accommodate 85 percent of all conventions, but now can only handle 60 percent.

With the matter of the Stadium Authority seat seemingly out of the way, the larger issue for the cash-poor city now becomes its share of the cost of the Convention Center project.

"Where the hell is the city going to come up with $50 million," asked one city official.

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