Agency asks city to bolster budget Promotion called vital to Baltimore economy

February 08, 1996|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Saying that a failure to invest enough to market Baltimore would cost the city millions of dollars in potential tax revenues generated by convention and tourism business, the agency charged with promoting the city told Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke last night that its budget must be nearly doubled.

Mr. Schmoke and members of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association emerged from a closed-door, hourlong meeting at City Hall saying they were hopeful that the nonprofit agency's $2.8 million annual operating budget could be increased to at least $5 million.

They provided few specifics on precisely how that would be done, however.

Mr. Schmoke said the city -- which contributes about $2 million a year to BACVA -- would consider kicking in more, but didn't say how much or what its source would be.

BACVA Chairman William Jews suggested funneling money from other city and state promotion efforts into the convention bureau.

The mayor, who in June slashed $400,000 from the agency's current budget in a dispute over funding and control, said last night that he now strongly agrees with the bureau's assertion, and that he views the convention and tourism business as a crucial element of economic development strategy.

BACVA leaders -- including Dale Garvin, the acting executive director, and Kathleen Ratcliffe, the convention marketing director -- warned that the health of the city's $1 billion-a-year tourism and convention business hangs in the balance.

Noting that BACVA changed its approach from purely questions of funding to a case based on "investment op-portunities and returns," Mr. Schmoke said, "I think it's pretty clear that, done right, this kind of promotional activity and marketing activity provides jobs for a community."

As he has repeatedly contended, however, the mayor said the city faces many competing needs during tough times and couldn't shoulder the entire funding increase BACVA wants.

Mr. Jews said, "We've got to get all those who benefit from additional tourism and convention business to understand that it's an investment in all of our futures.

"We've got to figure out how to get the city, the state, the restaurateurs, et cetera, to understand that and fund it appropriately."

Meal tax

Last night's meeting came a week after the influential Greater Baltimore Committee, amid stiff opposition led by a statewide restaurant group, withdrew its proposal to levy a 1 percent meal tax that would have raised at least $2.5 million a year for the convention bureau.

The GBC had based its proposal to tax meals at about 125 restaurants on a consultant's study, which found that BACVA's budget lags well behind those of competitors in other cities.

Even with the convention center's size being doubled and $400 million in new attractions being built, Baltimore's convention and tourism trade is at risk of "severe erosion" because of the lack of funding, the study said.

TV advertising

It called the $2.5 million increase a bare minimum needed "just to get in the game" and said, for example, that it would not provide enough for major television advertising, an increasingly popular tool for convention bureaus.

Likening spending for marketing destinations to corporate investment in marketing products, the report called it just as essential.

Baltimore's tourism industry, the report noted, generates $26 million in annual city tax revenues and another $51 million in state taxes and provides 16,000 jobs.

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