Conference center 'rush' criticized

January 06, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

What's the rush? That is the question several Annapolis residents posed last night to a public-private committee, which is attempting to select a site for a $25 million conference center.

The chairman of the committee -- which includes representatives from the Annapolis city and Anne Arundel County governments, as well as the hospitality industry that would benefit from the project -- has said it hopes to choose a site by Feb. 1.

A dozen residents and representatives of civic groups from the city and outlying neighborhoods objected during a two-hour "town meeting" at the Holiday Inn in Parole that the committee was moving too fast. They cited concerns that public input was not sought earlier and that tax money might be spent to build the facility.

"Time appears to be too much of the essence," said Cynthia L. Eckard, a Homewood resident representing a coalition of civic associations. "What's the magic number of Feb. 1? What's the rush and who's pushing it?"

Robert Waldman, another resident, said too many unanswered questions, such as who will own the facility and how it would affect the quality of life in Annapolis, are unanswered. He also challenged the site-selection panel to open its membership to include Annapolis residents.

"I'm outraged that the mayor would waive the development fees" that would have to be paid if the conference center is built within city limits, said one angry man. "You'd better learn the word 'recall,' Mr. Mayor."

Not all were opposed. Several city officials, business leaders and the president of the Presidents' Hill civic association urged the committee to locate the facility at the corner of Taylor Avenue and West Street. That is only site within city limits currently being considered. Annapolis Planning Director Eileen Fogarty said Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins is eager for the conference center to go there and would waive certain city fees if it did. She said it would create a new gateway to the city and refurbish an ailing inner West Street corridor.

The site-selection panel was formed in the summer by the city, county and the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Visitor and Conference Bureau, a private group which markets the county as a center for tourism.

The panel already has narrowed, with the help of a $30,000 feasibility study, the number of sites under consideration to three.

They are the Menke-Phipps tract at Taylor Avenue and West Street, owned by Fred Menke and Louis Phipps; a tract on the south side of Jennifer Road owned by the Anne Arundel Medical Center; and property along West Street between Riva Road and Route 2, owned by the Parole Shopping Center.

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