Starting on the Conference Center

January 11, 1995

Change doesn't come easily to Annapolis.

For more than a year, factions in the colonial city have debated whether to build a conference center on West Street. Supporters say the project would infuse the local economy with $23 million and help create as many as 200 new jobs. Opponents complain that a conference center would be detrimental to the downtown residents as well as the ambience of the historic city.

A resolution to the controversy will have to wait a little longer.

On Monday, the Annapolis City Council postponed a vote on legislation that would have set aside money to study building a conference center on property known as the Menke site at West Street and Taylor Avenue. Some aldermen said they were unhappy with the way the resolution was worded and wanted time to make revisions.

While some changes may have to be made in the wording of the legislation, we urge the city to move forward with the study as soon as possible.

A conference center in the state capital makes sense. Not only would it attract visitors to the city throughout the week, a conference center could also provide the community with a gathering place for local events. And the Menke site offers a number of advantages.

For years the city has been looking for ways to revitalize the West Street corridor, a stretch of small retail shops, office complexes, gas stations and car dealerships. A luxury hotel built several years ago alone has not done the trick. A conference center and its captive audiences with money to spend might provide the solution.

And a conference center would impact the area less than would other alternatives. Apartment buildings or retail businesses on the site would add to the traffic congestion and demand on city services. The conference center, on the other hand, would not be apt to generate continuous traffic, it would add to the tax base and require little in the way of services.

Of course, it is possible the Menke site is not the best place for a conference center.

The property may be too small and too far from the city's waterside and historic district attractions that would draw conventioneers in the first place. But a fair and impartial study would answer those questions.

It's time to get started.

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