The mayor moderates his threat Willing to discuss center ownership STATE HOUSE REPORT

April 10, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer Staff Writer Tom Bowman contributed to this report.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday tempered his threat to withhold the city's $50 million share of the Convention Center expansion because of his objections to Senate language that would give the state a virtually permanent ownership interest.

"I came down here to negotiate, not to draw a line in the sand," Mr. Schmoke said yesterday, after lobbying legislators in both houses in the hope of striking a compromise.

That compromise, he said, could include the city's agreeing to the state's partial ownership of the building if negotiations over the extent of the state's ownership are put off.

But while he was touting compromise, Mr. Schmoke added, "I have not backed away from saying that the Senate language poses very serious problems -- and these are not insignificant problems."

Meanwhile yesterday, senators and delegates on a conference committee broke off debate over how to resolve differences in their versions of the bill that would provide $100 million in state money for the Convention Center expansion. The differences involve financing and ownership.

The stalemate left the state's capital budget in limbo, as House members told the Senate that until the Convention Center issue is resolved, they are unwilling to discuss differences in the construction budget.

That portion of the state budget contains millions of dollars in pork barrel items -- valuable bargaining chips in the legislature's final days.

And, while legislative leaders conceded that the temporary stalemate did not pose an immediate problem -- though the General Assembly adjourns Monday -- several said they were concerned that the Convention Center issue could prompt an 11th-hour Senate filibuster over compromise language.

The Senate's version of the Convention Center bill differs from the House version in the method of financing -- general obligation bonds versus revenue bonds -- and how long the state would be a part owner of the building. Mr. Schmoke backs the House language, which would give the state partial ownership, but only until the state's 20-year revenue bonds are paid off.

The Senate bill would give the state partial ownership -- about 60 percent -- of the original 14-year building, an earlier expansion and the proposed expansion. The terms would give the state part ownership for 99 years and an option to extend that ownership in perpetuity.

The mayor, recovering from the flu, was grim-faced yesterday as he made his pilgrimage to lobby Senate and House members. He acknowledged that his problem with the state's ownership did go beyond merely the city's concerns over air rights, development rights and say-so over adjacent properties. It also involved the feeling that he was being treated differently than previous mayors and other county executives whose state-funded projects have been approved regularly without the state holding a stake in them.

"It's certainly different than the city has been treated in the past," Mr. Schmoke said. "The Convention Center was built and expanded under an agreement where the city retained ownership, and the state was repaid the money loaned for construction and expansion. I don't see any reason to change the rules now."

Mr. Schmoke also said he had been told months ago by state officials and the Maryland Stadium Authority that ownership of the facility would not be part of the deal.

"They made a very firm agreement that issues of control and ownership would not be an issue," Mr. Schmoke said.

But it was not the administration or the Stadium Authority that had put the ownership provisions in the bill. That was done by the Senate.

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