Convention Center plan OK'd Senate panel votes 11-2 for expansion

April 07, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

With surprisingly little opposition, the $150 million plan to expand the Baltimore Convention Center yesterday won the approval of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Late last week the vote count in the committee was considered too close to call. But the final tally, 11-2, had only two senators from Montgomery County voting against the project, which would more than double the size of the 14-year-old building.

In passing the bill, the Senate panel amended the measure already approved by the House. The amendments seek to change the method of financing and give the state more control over the finished building.

If the full Senate passes the bill, as expected, the measure will face one more hurdle -- a conference committee where delegates and senators would seek to reach a compromise.

But legislative leaders and the governor's chief lobbyists seemed optimistic yesterday.

"We just worked very hard and convinced, I think, everyone on the [Senate] committee that this made sense economically," said David S. Iannucci, chief lobbyist for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has pushed hard for the legislation.

The administration's approval of an $82 million Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland at College Park was considered crucial in securing the support of Prince George's County legislators.

The bill authorizing the state to spend $100 million on the project -- the other $50 million would come from the city -- could go before the full Senate as early as today.

"The timing is right for this," Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, D-Howard, a member of Budget and Taxation, said in explaining his vote yesterday.

"The economy needs the boost it will get from these jobs and from the overall business the project will generate," he said.

Sen. John Hafer, R-Allegany, said he was convinced that the expansion's effect on the economy would help even Western Maryland.

The administration has argued that the tax revenues generated by the additional convention business would more than pay for the project, giving the state's bottom line a boost.

The administration's statistics show that Convention Center business has declined as a growing number of conventions require more space than the 115,000 square feet the building currently offers.

Without the expansion, it was argued, that decline would continue.

"It's a good idea," Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery, said as she voted against it. "But it's the wrong time with what's going on in the economy to use taxpayers' money on something like this."

Sen. Laurence Levitan, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee, agrees that the project makes financial sense, but voted against it because he believes that the Baltimore hotels and restaurants that would benefit most from the expansion would not directly share in its costs through some type of tax.

The Senate amendments, which were pushed by Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, would use general obligation bonds issued by the state and paid off over 13 years to finance the $100 million state share.

The House bill calls for 20-year revenue bonds issued by the Stadium Authority, which will oversee the expansion. The Senate version is expected to save some interest costs.

Another Senate amendment gives the state a 99-year lease on the building.

The original bill called for the city to own the center. The House changed that to give the state two-thirds ownership -- equal to its share of the cost -- for the 20-year duration of the bonds.

Mr. Cade made it clear that he backs these changes and will not support the project without them.

Del. Timothy F. Maloney, a Prince George's Democrat who will be on the conference committee, said later, "The House is sympathetic to the 99-year lease, but feels strongly about using revenue bonds. I'm sure we can work something out."

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