Dueling convention centers Fairgrounds expansion: City and Baltimore County have chance for promising joint effort

September 22, 1995

C OFFICIALS OF Baltimore County and the Timonium Fairgrounds are saying the right things about a proposed expansion of the fairgrounds and how it would affect business at the Convention Center in downtown Baltimore. Fairgrounds operators want to undertake a $4 million project that would increase the total amount of building space at Timonium to 270,000 square feet. At this preliminary stage of the planning, they envision signing up regional consumer and trade shows, leaving large-scale national gatherings to the Convention Center, which is currently being doubled in size to 300,000 square feet.

A Convention Center manager complained that the smaller shows coveted by fairgrounds managers "are a huge, huge part of our future marketing plan." Not to worry, say county and fairgrounds officials. Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger has told Mayor Kurt Schmoke that the county does not want to compete with the city, but rather take overflow from the city facility. Apparently, though, overflow convention business is not a concern for the city, given the comments of show organizers who say they have received shabby treatment from Convention Center officials. Tourism is too important to Baltimore for this problem to continue. It must be remedied.

Baltimore city and county officials should jump at this opportunity to plot a strategy for their jurisdictions to pool resources and work in tandem to scoop up conventions and trade shows of all varieties. A city-county partnership should be formed to handle recruitment and marketing of business.

Logically, the bigger events would be held downtown, the smaller ones in Timonium. A partnership would allow for flexibility as to where gatherings could be staged. And if an event is too large for one site, parts of it could be scheduled at the other location; each is easily reached from the other by car or light rail.

Enlarging the Timonium facility is not a bad idea; for one thing, it would add much-needed space for the annual State Fair. But, more important, it would provide Baltimore City and Baltimore County a chance to handle convention business in a complementary fashion that creates a double boon for the region.

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