Ruppersberger backs more Hippodrome aid

He wants county to give $1 million for city project

March 15, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Agreeing that Baltimore County residents would flock to a premium theater in the city, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said yesterday he supports spending $1 million to help renovate the Hippodrome Theater.

The contribution, which would be made over two years and would have to be approved by the County Council, is double the amount that was discussed by county officials and backers of the project a year ago.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings of Baltimore, the influential chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and an advocate of the project, asked for the higher county contribution after reviewing marketing studies for the project.

"Apparently Pete [Rawlings] sent a message to the Greater Baltimore Committee that Baltimore County residents would use this new facility heavily, and somehow our contribution should be more," said Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for Ruppersberger. "Dutch looked at those numbers and agreed."

Baltimore and state leaders are backing a $53 million renovation and expansion of the historic theater to create a Broadway-quality performing arts center. The project is considered a critical piece of a larger redevelopment plan for the city's west side.

State lawmakers have agreed to pay half the costs, or $21.5 million, and the city is planning a $6 million contribution.

The county donation would come at a time of unprecedented local budget surpluses, and also during a period when Ruppersberger would like to solidify his support among city leaders for an expected run for governor in 2002.

Ruppersberger said in a letter to Rawlings yesterday that he would include $500,000 for the Hippodrome in the budget he gives to the County Council next month, and $500,000 next year if the council approves the request.

Ruppersberger's decision caught other politicians by surprise yesterday.

"We'll have to talk about the amount. This is the first time I've seen it," said County Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat.

In recent weeks, Ruppersberger has worked to strengthen city-county relations. The executive has supported O'Malley's call for court system reforms, and is backing joint city-county legislative proposals that include requiring digital photographs of goods in pawn shops and banning drivers license renewals for motorists with outstanding warrants.

While the Hippodrome donation is noteworthy for its size, it is not unique. For years, the county has funded city facilities, recognizing that county residents benefit from arts and cultural attractions in a neighboring jurisdiction.

In its fiscal 2000 budget, the county gave $2.13 million in grants to city institutions, including $600,000 for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and $210,203 for the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Studies show that 60 percent of theater and other arts patrons at city institutions come from Baltimore County, far more than from any other jurisdiction, said Diane Hutchins, lobbyist for the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Sun staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this article.

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