Caught in a non-bind Another hollow act from Annapolis council on conference center.

July 12, 1996

IT IS UNFORTUNATE that the Annapolis City Council can't get beyond a non-binding resolution in support of a conference center. Rather than continue to dance around the issue and telegraph a sense of tepid support for this project, the council should hold hearings to see if it can build momentum for it.

As the state capital and a powerful tourist magnet, Annapolis seems a sensible location for a conference center. Many groups with statewide membership already converge on Annapolis to petition the General Assembly or to meet with state agencies. But any group than wants to convene 600 to 1,500 people has to look at least as far away as the airport corridor, because Annapolis can't accommodate such mid-size conventions. Supporters maintain that a conference center would generate as much as $23 million for the local economy and help create up to 200 jobs.

By a one-vote margin at the council's most recent meeting, Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins won a non-binding endorsement to buy the Menke property, a vacant car lot in the 200 block of West

Street. By waiting until the last minute to distribute the resolution and by making it non-binding to avoid the need for public hearings, however, the Hopkins' administration hurt rather than helped the case for the conference center. After three years of discussion and desultory actions, the city is no closer to undertaking this project.

What happens next? Who knows? Certainly no one in City Hall. If privately financed and privately owned, this center probably wouldn't generate significant opposition. Its major hurdle is the large cost to the city's taxpayers. Indeed, proponents have yet ,, to make a convincing case that a publicly financed center would be financially self-sustaining and wouldn't become a drain on taxpayers. The city should explore a burden-sharing plan with state and county participation as a way to minimize local taxpayer exposure, since they would benefit as well from a first-class conference center.

This facility would provide a boost for a neglected part of Annapolis not far from the bustling historic district, create jobs and increase the tax base. Rather than spin their wheels on non-binding resolutions, city officials should work more aggressively to make this promising project a reality.

Pub Date: 7/12/96

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