Expand the Convention Center

January 11, 1993

Gov. William Donald Schaefer took a key step last week to win support for an expanded convention center from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke by placing a city representative on the Maryland Stadium Authority. The mayor, in return, owes it to the city to waste no time in working with the authority on an acceptable financing plan. Any delay could cost the city millions in badly needed tax revenue.

Why the mayor remains so unethusiastic about the convention center expansion remains a mystery. City business leaders are united in their strong support for the expansion, which is a necessity if Baltimore is to continue to attract conventions to town. Without a bigger facility, the city could lose well over half its trade shows and conventions later in the decade.

A consultant's study shows a depressing situation. Competitors for conventions already have built or are building big meeting halls. But Baltimore, stuck with 143,000 total gross square feet of exhibit space (even Charlotte, N.C., will have 275,000 square feet next year), can no longer compete for big gatherings. It has lost 33 events in three years for that very reason.

This translates into fewer tax dollars for the city and the state, as well as bad news for nearby hotels that already are in a precarious situation. Mr. Schmoke cannot permit the status quo to persist because it would mean millions less in tax money than the city now receives and a decline in hotel and restaurant activity -- key generators of city jobs and economic growth.

Doubling the size of the convention center would increase the number of events by 70 percent. The economic spinoff is enormous. The extra tax revenue would easily pay for the city's share of the expanded center with millions left over to help pay for other essential services.

That's why it is imperative that Mr. Schmoke actively work with state officials on a plan that can pass the General Assembly. The $150 million project is vital to the city's future well-being. It cannot be delayed. (In fact, the likelihood of its gaining approval in Annapolis diminishes significantly in 1994 and 1995 -- and the price tag rises sharply.)

Baltimore's mayor has to be the city's No. 1 salesman for economic development. The convention center expansion is the biggest and most important project likely to come the city's way any time soon. Baltimore needs an enlarged convention facility. The governor recognized this and is doing his part. Now it is up to Mr. Schmoke.

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