Schmoke rejects Schaefer proposal

Mayor says state will not be taking over Convention Center

January 27, 1999|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday rejected Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's recommendation that the state take over the Baltimore Convention Center, saying that booking numbers did not reflect poor management.

"If he says we haven't brought in convention business, he's just wrong," Schmoke said. "He's ignoring the facts. While I'm mayor, we're not going to seriously entertain his suggestion that the state take over the Convention Center."

Minutes after assuming office as comptroller Monday, Schaefer called for the Convention Center management change, saying new marketing is needed.

"The state has a major investment in the Convention Center," Schaefer said in an interview yesterday. "I don't see an aggressive attitude. They'll tell you they're doing a good job. I don't see it. The restaurant people and the hotels are telling me they don't see it."

Schaefer put the blame at the top, saying that Schmoke must be held accountable.

"The mayor is not a cheerleader," Schaefer said. "You've got to be a cheerleader to get conventions."

The state financed $100 million of the $151 million spent on the expansion of the Convention Center, which opened in September 1996. The city paid the balance. With greater resources, the state is in a better position to market the center and work as a partner with such facilities as the convention center in Ocean City and Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in Cumberland, Schaefer said.

"That's Mr. Schaefer doing what he did as governor: meddle," Schmoke said. "I think he should focus on the office of comptroller. Now, we both could agree that the Convention Center and the tourism business need more money, but I disagree adamantly that the Convention Center needs new management."

According to figures provided by the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, in 1997, the Convention Center had 413 meetings, with 443,462 attendees and an economic impact of $812.1 million. In 1998, there were 555 meetings, with 535,270 attendees, and an economic impact of $1 billion.

Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive of BACVA since 1996, was at a conference in Canada yesterday and could not be reached for comment. But he recently said that he was happy with his group's progress in increasing 1997 and 1998 convention bookings. Because large conventions book so far in advance, it is difficult to turn numbers around immediately, even with ardent marketing efforts. But short-term marketing aimed at small groups had increased the overall numbers significantly, he said.

"My question is, have we given the new people enough time to be successful?" said Werner Kunz, managing director, Harbor Court Hotel. "I would be nervous to agree to any change. My customers don't come back because I have a lot of marble and chandeliers. They come back because I'm here and most of my people have been here five to 10 years or longer. I think that translates to BACVA."

But Tom Lerario, general manager of the Omni Inner Harbor Hotel, sounded more open to the idea.

"Donald Schaefer has a long history of cheerleading for Baltimore and if he can combine that with the fiscal responsibilities of his office, we ought to consider every possibility for improving tourism in Baltimore," Lerario said.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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