By Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun
8:57 PM EDT, June 14, 2011
The Maryland Stadium Authority agreed Tuesday to study the feasibility of building a new downtown arena and expanding the Baltimore Convention Center — but directors want the city of Baltimore to help pay part of the study's $150,000 cost.
Directors of the state agency voted 6-0 to approve the May 24 request from Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to determine whether the project would be financially viable, and how much tax revenue it could generate. The panel also instructed executive director Michael Frenz to negotiate with city officials to see whether the city would make a "meaningful contribution" toward the cost of the study.
The agency will also ask representatives of the Greater Baltimore Committee, a private business group that supports the $900 million arena and convention center project, to appear at their July meeting to present preliminary plans for it.
The action means that the GBC has cleared an important hurdle in its effort to secure public financing to help expand the convention center and attract private funding for an adjacent 18,500-seat arena. The stadium authority has an "on call' consultant, Crossroads Consulting Services of Tampa, Fla., that can take the lead on the study.
The business group unveiled preliminary designs for the project last month and said Baltimore construction magnate Willard Hackerman has pledged to lead a team that would provide private financing for the $325 million arena and a $175 million hotel above it.
That means the group still needs to find a way to pay for a $400 million convention center expansion that would be connected to the arena. The proposed construction site is bounded roughly by Charles, Pratt, Sharp and Conway streets,
Donald C. Fry, the GBC's president and chief executive, says he believes the $400 million cost of expanding the convention center could be paid by the city or state or both, by issuing bonds. But he says legislators will first want to see the results of an independent study to determine whether the project is feasible and how much it would generate in taxes.
At their meeting Tuesday, several stadium authority directors questioned why the city wasn't helping pay for the study, the way most local jurisdictions help fund feasibility studies involving projects that benefit a particular area. Director Leonard Attman said he wanted more information about the convention center project before approving funds to study it further. Director Richard Stewart said he was concerned that the city didn't have any "skin in the game."
Kaliope Parthemos, Baltimore's deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development and a stadium authority member, abstained from the vote. She said O'Malley's office drafted the joint request to have the agency pay for the convention center study. Parthemos added that the city is prepared to help pay for the study if that is what the agency wants.
Fry said after the meeting that he is pleased that the stadium authority members voted to move ahead with the study and happy to meet with the board. "I look forward to the opportunity to present it to the stadium authority," he said.
In other action, the stadium authority:
•Approved a request to lease space at M&T Bank Stadium to Verizon so it can install a "distributed antenna system" that is intended to improve cell phone reception there. For years, Ravens fans and others have complained of poor cell phone reception at the stadium, and Verizon plans to install equipment to correct the problem, directors were told.
•Authorized a feasibility study for a tennis complex and training complex for the D.C. United soccer team at Troy Park in Elkridge. The study is expected to cost $75,000, with $40,000 coming from Howard County and $35,000 from the stadium authority.
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