Annapolis Needs a Conference Center

March 29, 1994

The idea of an Annapolis conference center is dead for now, but should not be forgotten.

The concept still has merit, for the simple reason that historic Annapolis is a city that ought to attract conventioneers. Even state lawmakers, who refused to provide design money in next fiscal year's budget, see this.

Their reasons for rejection involved wobbly city support, the lack of a set location and election-year jitters about a multi-million-dollar project many constituents view as a gift to the hotel industry. State legislators did not question the soundness of an Annapolis conference center per se.

Over the next year, the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau and others who want to see this project happen have to hone the details of this important project and shore up support. The conference center will not get off the ground until a majority of the City Council is willing to participate in its funding; right now, the council is so skeptical that Mayor Alfred Hopkins is reluctant to include Annapolis' share of $500,000 in city/county planning money in his 1995 operating budget. That's unacceptable.

Conference center proponents need to do a better job of selling their idea. A bloc of opposition will always exist, but even residents with a more open mind about the project have legitimate questions concerning the conference center's benefits and impact on their quality of life. There has been only one hearing on this project; more are needed.

A key issue that deserves debate is location. Of the two spots being considered, the Menke site, at Taylor Avenue and West Street, is by far the better; the other is outside city limits and too far from Annapolis' top draw, City Dock. But the Menke property has its drawbacks, too. Traffic problems are one; the slightly rundown state of the West Street corridor is another. The site is walkable to downtown, but what good is that if visitors don't feel comfortable taking that route on foot? A conference center on West Street must be twinned with redevelopment of the entire area.

While we are not opposed to the Menke property, the ideal place for a conference center has always been Rowe Boulevard -- especially now that the governor wants to enhance this city gateway with millions of dollars worth of improvements. It is too late to get the Elks property -- the state bought it for a new District Court -- but there is plenty of time before the next General Assembly session to explore other possibilities.

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