Fairgrounds proposes major exhibition hall Proposal could draw business from city's Convention Center

A $4 million project

Operators seeking to attract regional, long-running shows

September 20, 1995|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Operators of the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium want to build a multimillion-dollar exhibition hall to accommodate long-running regional shows -- a move that could steal business from the Baltimore Convention Center.

The new hall would link two existing buildings to create a 270,000-square-foot complex close to the light rail entrance at the fairgrounds' northern end. Fairgrounds operators say that once the downtown convention center's expansion is finished, that center will concentrate on major events, leaving 50 to 60 smaller regional shows up for grabs.

But convention center Deputy Director Jim Kelly said yesterday, "That's completely false. Those type shows are a huge, huge part of our future marketing plan."

He said he was ready to battle for the regional shows. "I'm always up for a good fight," he said.

Fairgrounds operators met yesterday with Baltimore County officials to discuss the proposed 50,000- to 70,000-square-foot building that would link an existing exhibition hall and the Cow Palace. Construction would cost roughly $4 million to $5 million, fair Vice President and General Manager Max Mosner said, adding that equestrian show facilities now in that space would be relocated.

The new building would also help the state fair, and "make it thrive into the next century," he said, adding that fair officials are committed to staying in Timonium.

The expansion idea, which Mr. Mosner called "very preliminary," grew from the annual International Auto Show, held at Timonium for the first time in February.

The auto exhibitors rigged tents to link the fairground's buildings, he said, but outdoor footing got treacherous in bad weather.

Mr. Mosner and fair President Grove Miller said the Baltimore Convention Center -- in the midst of an expansion that would more than double exhibition space to 300,000 square feet -- wants gatherings that require at least 500 hotel rooms, not consumer and trade shows.

"The convention center is not interested in consumer shows. They want conventions, tourists," Mr. Mosner told county officials.

But Mr. Kelly denied those assertions.

Construction of the convention center addition temporarily cut downtown exhibition space, he acknowledged. But he said he wants events such as the International Auto Show back when work is done.

Mr. Mosner said the proposed expansion at the fairgrounds could cause another problem: the displacement of 200 smaller annual events such as cat shows, coin shows and clothing sales whose promoters have been loyal Timonium customers over the years.

County lobbyist and Assistant County Attorney Patrick Roddy suggested finding a new, smaller site elsewhere in the county to accommodate those shows.

County officials, including chief lobbyist Michael H. Davis, said they would begin creating a package of information for the county's General Assembly delegation in hopes of snagging some state funding for the project in the 1996 legislative session.

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