More conventioneers coming our way

April 16, 1993

When the new, expanded Baltimore Convention Center opens in the summer or early fall of 1996, this city should experience a surge in tourists and visitors anxious to spend money and have a good time. Conventions mean big business for hotels, restaurants, retail shops and sightseeing ventures. The economic impact could prove remarkable: Estimates are that the larger convention facility will pump some $330 million into the state economy by the year 2000.

But to take advantage of this $150 million project, approved by the legislature on the final day of its 1993 session, convention officials have to get cracking on a marketing and sales crusade. Groups that recently shunned Baltimore because its convention site wasn't big enough to handle their exhibits and crowds now )) have to be persuaded to reconsider. After all, the new facility will be unsurpassed in the mid-Atlantic region, complete with a posh special-events room big enough to seat more than 3,000 people for banquets and 5,000 or more for major speeches.

In recent years, Baltimore has averaged between 3,000 and 4,000 people at each convention. Once the size of the meeting hall is more than doubled, to 305,000 square feet, Baltimore officials expect to average 10,000 people per convention. And with the extra space, this city will be able to host two or even three conventions simultaneously.

There is a problem, though: the Baltimore Convention and Visitors Bureau doesn't have the extra money to undertake the immediate marketing campaign so necessary to sign up big conventions for 1997 and 1998. It barely has enough in its budget to keep convention business afloat till the expanded center opens its doors.

Another $300,000 or $350,000 is needed right away to send the message to trade groups, meeting planners and decision-makers that Baltimore will have a spanking-new facility big enough to handle all but the very largest conventions. Private-sector groups ought to step forward with immediate contributions. And the city should find some extra cash to jump-start this effort.

Some 6,000 new jobs are expected to be created by the convention center addition and the renovated older building. Downtown hotels, and many in the suburbs, will also benefit enormously. So will area restaurants and taverns.

This is an exciting undertaking. But it is up to city and private-sector leaders in this region to find the money to get the word out: Baltimore intends to be a big player in the convention trade by the end of this decade.

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