Schmoke's tourism problem Stop-gap measure: Plan to put more money into promotion still leaves mayor in a bind.

April 12, 1996

A SIGH OF RELIEF is in order following an 11th-hour decision by the General Assembly to devert $5 million in city highway user fees to bring more business to the Baltimore Convention Center. The decision, made just before the legislature adjourned, may delay some city pothole and resurfacing projects. But it looks like the best way to immediately provide more money to adequately market the center, which is failing to meet projections for future bookings.

This one-time diversion of $5 million, though, does not take the pressure off Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to permanently improve funding for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. BACVA is expected to generate the business volume needed to justify the $150 million cost to double the size of the Convention Center. The diverted road money will nearly double BACVA's budget. But that's just for next fiscal year. More money for promotion and marketing will likely be needed in the future.

The legislative deal derailed the mayor's attempt to invoke a city ordinance that would have allowed Baltimore to automatically raise its hotel room tax rate. The tax will increase, but only from 7 percent to 7.5 percent instead of the 9.9 percent rsought by the mayor.

So large a tax increase would have been counterproductive. Making Baltimore's hotel tax the highest on the East Coast wouldn't attract more conventions. Instead, it would make it more difficult to market the city.

The hotels, however, still have a responsibility to help map a tourism promotion strategy for Baltimore that includes better funding for BACVA. More conventions mean more customers for them. Restaurants, too, that beat back an attempt to levy a meal tax in a special tourism district, must be involved in discussions to subsidize BACVA. As should the rental car industry, which helps fund tourism promotion in other states.

Legislators have said they will play a role in future Convention Center promotion discussions to protect the state's investment. It paid two-thirds of the expansion's cost. Mr. Schmoke let the General Assembly in Annapolis take the lead in developing a stop-gap solution using city road money. But he should be the one who forges a more permanent solution. It's his job, not the state legislature's.

Pub Date: 4/12/96

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