Annapolis conference center: do it right

January 10, 1994

This much has been clear since Annapolis began talking about building a conference center: It ought to go in the city, as near the historic downtown as possible. Convention visitors who choose Annapolis are going to expect to experience cobblestone streets, the City Dock and 18th-century & 2/3 architecture.

Of the three sites being considered, only one comes close to offering visitors that experience, the so-called Menke property at Taylor Avenue and West Street. The city is pushing for the Menke site, and it seems certain that a site-selection committee, which is scheduled to decide by Feb. 1, will choose it. We wish the Menke property were closer to downtown, but it clearly is the best of the three choices.

Predictably, residents are encouraging the committee to put on the brakes, saying this project is too big to rush.

While we suspect neighbors would just as soon see the conference center die, and while we realize Annapolis is competing with other areas, the residents have a point. This center could either be the linchpin of a revitalized West Street and a booming city economy or a $25 million white elephant -- depending on whether it is done right.

Let's assume the committee chooses the Menke site. Its work will have just begun. These critical issues still must be resolved:

* Where is the $25 million going to come from? The city says it will ask the state and Anne Arundel County to share in the funding, but until the money is lined up, the financing remains precarious.

* How will the city ensure the center will not damage the quality of life for Annapolis residents? Parking and traffic are problems. So is transportation to downtown.

Lastly, a conference center located along West Street is by no means a guaranteed success. Perhaps the center alone will be enough to revitalize the corridor. But it seems more likely that the city will have to invest in other redevelopment to make the area attractive enough to draw conferences.

A conference center on West Street can work. But this location is not a magic charm. It will take thorough planning to make it succeed, and if it takes more time to do it right, so be it. The committee's wish to capture the market as soon as possible makes sense, but it should remember that the attributes that make Annapolis an attractive place for conferences are not going to change.

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