A conference center in Annapolis?

November 22, 1993

No one needs a consultant to know that Annapolis, with its charm and tourist amenities, is a perfect place for a conference center. Nor is there any doubt that the local economy could use the boost. But what kind of center? Where? And how can it be built with the least impact on city residents? These questions must be resolved before city and county governments move ahead.

Now that a consultant's study has recommended a small convention center for Annapolis, the committee assigned to oversee the project is scheduled to choose a site by year's end. They're right to move quickly; other jurisdictions also are interested in mining the market for small business gatherings.

But the conference center won't benefit Annapolis unless it's done right. Perhaps more than anything that means building it in the right place. All but one of the six sites being considered, however, fall in the city's outlying areas. Conventioneers are not going to want to hang around Parole; they are going to want to RTC go downtown. Since no shuttles connect the areas under consideration to the tourist district, the conventioneers will drive. And, Annapolitans will not take kindly to the idea of up to 1,500 extra cars clogging the streets year-round.

The convention center needs to be within walking distance of, or at least closer to, downtown. Visitors want to experience the feel of Annapolis; they all have "Paroles" in their own hometowns.

For some reason, the committee has dismissed developer Ronald Pappe's plan to build it along the city's gateway at Rowe Boulevard and Taylor Avenue, but it's an intriguing suggestion that deserves a closer look. A state police barracks sits on the site now, but according to Mr. Pappe, the governor is willing to consider moving it. The advantages of this site are substantial enough that the committee ought to find out just how willing the governor is. Under Mr. Pappe's plan, visitors could park their cars at the Naval Academy stadium, take a long walk downtown or use the existing shuttle bus from the stadium.

The projected benefits of a convention center -- $23 million annually for the local economy and 200 new jobs -- are too significant to ignore. If built as the study recommends, the center would cost about $25 million in addition to the cost of the land. A conference center is a good idea, but the county and city can't afford to make a mistake about how it's done -- and most important, where it goes.

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