However, as planning progressed, Fry said, he asked Hackerman whether he would be willing to pay for the arena as well. Soon afterward, Fry continued, Hackerman indicated he would be willing to put together a private group to pay for the arena as well as the hotel — eliminating the need for the city and state to issue bonds or identify other funding sources for those phases of the project.

Fry said Hackerman's offer is contingent on the convention center expansion's moving ahead and being connected to the arena to create one project. He said planners would seek city and state funding for the convention center expansion, making the project a public-private partnership.

He said Hackerman's offer to fund the arena privately should make the entire project easier to finance and more likely to move ahead, as funding sources have been identified for more than half the project's total estimated cost.

Based on the preliminary designs, Fry said, the hotel is expected to cost $175 million and the arena $325 million — a total of $500 million that would be covered by Hackerman and his investment group. The convention center expansion, which is expected to cost $400 million, would be the only major phase of the project for which a funding source has not been identified.

Fry said before the GBC meeting Wednesday that he believed the cost of expanding the convention center could be paid for by the city or state or both, by issuing bonds. He noted that bonds were issued to build the original convention center in the 1970s and an expansion in the 1990s. He added that the 1979 wing is paid for and that the bonds for the 1996 wing are to be paid off in 2014.

Fry also said Hackerman's offer eliminates the need for city and state officials to justify the construction of an arena without the city's having secured a professional basketball or hockey team as a project anchor.

He said he believes it would make sense to ask the state to fund an expansion of the convention center, given the state's previous investment in it and in other projects nearby such as the Camden Yards sports complex.

Fry said that the mayor and governor already have requested that the Maryland Stadium Authority conduct a marketing and economic study of the project, which Fry said he hopes will be completed by the end of the year.

With the results of the feasibility study, Fry said, planners can go to the city and state to seek approval to sell bonds to pay for construction of the publicly funded portion of the project. They also may explore other funding sources, such as selling rights to name the building.

Earlier this year, GBC officials said the arena could be completed by 2016 if construction began in 2012. With Hackerman's support, Fry said, the project could be completed close to the timetable outlined last fall — in about four years for the arena and hotel, and an additional three years for the convention center expansion.

The work requires that the 1979 wing of the convention center be demolished to make way for the expansion, but the 1996 wing could remain in operation.

For many years, civic leaders have been looking for ways to replace the 1st Mariner Arena, which opened in 1961 at Baltimore Street and Hopkins Place.

Baltimore banker Edwin F. Hale Sr., chairman of Visit Baltimore and owner of the Baltimore Blast soccer team, which plays at 1st Mariner Arena, said he was pleased that plans now call for holding off razing the old arena until a new one opens.

"I'm happy about that," Hale said of the new plan.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com