$150 million center expansion clears a key hurdle STATE HOUSE REPORT

February 26, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

The $150 million plan to expand the Baltimore Convention Center was endorsed yesterday by the legislature's financial analysts, who said the expenditure would be a good investment.

That endorsement was conveyed to the House Appropriations Committee at the first hearing on the plan, which would more than double the size of the 14-year-old center. The analysts from the Department of Fiscal Services did question some of the figures used by those pushing the expansion, but they concluded that the project is sound.

"The General Assembly is faced with a business judgment," the analysts' report said. "Expansion of the Convention Center affords an opportunity to compete with other major convention centers in the East, particularly Philadelphia; Washington; and Charlotte, N.C.

"There is potential for significant 'profit' in terms of revenues," the report said, citing tax benefits that would outweigh the cost to the state. "Maintaining the status quo could result in decline or at best a small 'profit' or perhaps a break-even status in an increasingly competitive environment."

Most of the testimony at the hearing repeated data presented by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and his aides at a news conference Tuesday, when they kicked off a drive to fund the project with $100 million from the state and $50 million from the city.

Their position: The present Convention Center has more than paid for itself since it opened in 1979, but is too small to compete in the current convention market.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke appeared before the committee yesterday to bolster the case. "Not expanding the Convention Center would not just leave us in economic status quo," he said. "Inaction on this project will put us in reverse at a time when the nation's economic engine is finally moving forward."

The only solid opposition to the expansion came from a citizens group from Montgomery County, the Committee for Montgomery. Its chairman, James Clark, said the state should invest its $100 million share in schools and environmental programs.

The Appropriations Committee chairman, Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, said no action will be taken on the expansion bill until the city and state decide who would pay management costs.

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