Annapolis moves step ahead in getting conference center City council endorses idea of buying land

July 09, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

Annapolis came one step closer to getting a conference center last night when the city council endorsed the idea of buying land on the inner West Street corridor for redevelopment.

But the resolution's supporters still were on the defensive. Critics accused them of playing a dirty trick, working to secure a conference center by waiting to distribute the proposal to members just before the council meeting and failing to hold public hearings.

"I know there are some misunderstandings," said Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins. "There is no ulterior motive here."

In a 5-4 vote, the council approved Hopkins' resolution that calls for the redevelopment of the economically depressed corridor and endorses the idea of buying the land known as the Menke site for a possible conference center, housing and retail complex.

It was deja vu all over again -- another nonbinding resolution that encourages a conference center but stops short of endorsing it. Last September, the council supported the vigorous pursuit of county and state funding for a conference center, but would not vote on the project's merits.

Critics contend the council is dancing around the conference center issue, trying to all but assure a multimillion dollar project without citizen input.

"We have not been very honest with people" by pursuing the resolution without a hearing, said Alderman Wayne Turner. "I just believe we're defrauding the people."

Others called the measure bad business. Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff said that if the West Street site was good for a conference center, a private bidder would have tried to buy it by now.

Owner Fred Menke has not been able to sell the property, which he has on the market for more than $4 million. The city did not mention any efforts to try to buy the property in its recently approved budget for next year.

Led by the mayor, several aldermen have campaigned for a conference center for more than three years. Voting for the measure last night were Hopkins, Samuel Gilmer, Shep Tullier, Carl Snowden and Ellen Moyer.

The resolution was passed with amendments that allow for the study of other possible uses for the 5.6 acres at West Street and Taylor Avenue. And it includes a caveat that the city would abandon pursuit of the property if a private entrepreneur tried to buy it first.

Meanwhile, Snowden pushed the measure as a way to speed renewal of an area where residents are moving out and houses are coming down. He emphasized that the resolution has no power and is just a set of suggestions.

"It only allows the administration to go forward and look at options," he said. "There will be plenty of time to debate all the options before the final decision is made.

But DeGraff countered: "Since it doesn't make any difference whether we approve this, I don't think we should."

Pub Date: 7/09/96

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