Merriweather purchase by county seen feasible

Panel hears consultant's plan for repairs, operation

February 23, 2005|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

Acquiring and renting out Merriweather Post Pavilion is financially feasible for Howard County, according to a consultant's report presented last night to a panel of business and community leaders, although it might cost more than expected.

The panel was appointed by County Executive James N. Robey to investigate whether the county should buy the pavilion. Last night, its members spent two hours examining the report - a business plan for operating Merriweather in the face of steep repairs and maintenance costs.

They decided to draft a recommendation to Robey by the end of the week and hold a news conference next week to make their conclusions public.

Panel members indicated last night that they would recommend the purchase of Merriweather, but only if certain conditions are met by the seller, General Growth Properties.

According to the consultant's report, Merriweather would require $19.5 million in repairs and maintenance - $4.1 million more than estimated in an earlier study. The estimated cost of the repairs includes $1.5 million to raise the ceiling of the pavilion, which would attract bigger stars to the venue and consequently more revenue.

"Raising the roof opens more doors," said Jean Parker, manager of Merriweather. "Bands want that these days, so they can bring in more equipment, put on more sophisticated productions."

The report, prepared by the architectural firm of Ziger/Snead, also highlighted the economic benefits that construction on Merriweather would bring to Howard County - up to 104 jobs and $28.8 million added to the county's economy.

The financial benefits of keeping Merriweather open as an outdoor amphitheater could mean as much as $9.3 million of business per year for the local economy, the report said.

Once the panel makes its recommendation, "the ball's in my court," Robey said in an interview before the meeting, which he did not attend. If he decides to buy Merriweather, Robey would send the request to the County Council, which would have to approve the purchase.

In recent months, Robey has lobbied for creation of a quasi-governmental county revenue authority that could be used to finance the purchase of Merriweather, among other county projects.

"I'm not going to use taxpayer dollars to purchase it," Robey said.

Howard County's legislative delegation has a meeting scheduled for today, as well as a possible vote on creating the revenue authority.

The purchase of Merriweather faces several problems, which panel members said need to be resolved before the county could offer to buy the pavilion.

The pavilion may soon have a severe shortage of parking spaces. Concertgoers now park on the undeveloped land around Merriweather. But General Growth, which owns the land, wants to develop office and retail buildings on it.

The matter is tied up in a county Planning Board hearing that has continued since October. On Thursday night, the board is to take up the matter again.

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