More Conventions for Baltimore

April 17, 1993

Watch out, Baltimore: The American Association of College Book Stores is coming to town in 1997. Bringing such a large gathering here, with 6,000 registrants expected, never would have happened without General Assembly approval of an enlarged Baltimore Convention Center on Monday night. In fact, had legislators rejected the expansion plan, the book-store group would have taken their meeting elsewhere: their contract with Baltimore was contingent upon state approval of the expansion this month.

That's a big bonanza for the city's tourist trade, for hotels, for restaurants and for city and state tax collectors, who will benefit from the increased economic activity. Multiply the impact of the book-store group many-fold and you have a small idea how important the larger convention center is to downtown Baltimore's future.

When the bigger facility is completed in the fall of 1996, Baltimore will match or surpass every other convention center in the region. The city will be able to accommodate all but the biggest conventions in the United States. Two or three smaller conventions can fit into the enlarged structure quite comfortably at the same time. A posh special-events room will be big enough to host a lavish banquet for 3,000 or seat 5,000 for a VIP speech. Local groups will be able to make use of this space during breaks in the convention schedule.

This $150 million project promises a big economic stimulus for the Baltimore area. Suppliers for convention events stand to benefit from increased business. Hotels away from the inner harbor, and even those in the close-in suburbs, should profit handsomely. Tourist trade should boom. It should add $330 million to the local economy.

It's almost too good to be true. To make this a reality will take considerable work between now and opening day. Of particular concern is the marketing job needed to get the word out about Baltimore's soon-to-be-expanded meeting hall. It could take $300,000 or more to jump-start this sales pitch. Private-sector boosters, who worked so hard to get state construction funds for the project, now will have to dig into their own pockets for some of this money. City officials, and state officials, too, will have to scrape together some extra cash to promote our convention expansion.

Baltimore, and Maryland, need a bigger facility to attract trade shows and conventions. Officials have just won legislative approval for doubling the size of the 14-year-old structure and retrofitting the older sections. Now the marketing begins in earnest to sign up large conventions for 1997, 1998 and beyond. This is money well spent. The economic rewards could be enormous.

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