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Baltimore tourism officials say number of city conventions may have peaked

Connor Silva, center, from North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and dressed as a medic, dances in a spontaneous conga line with Franklin Wyncote, left, dressed as a red solider, and Giulio Trimboli, from Springfield, Mass., also dressed as a medic at BronyCon at the Baltimore Convention Center.
Connor Silva, center, from North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and dressed as a medic, dances in a spontaneous conga line with Franklin Wyncote, left, dressed as a red solider, and Giulio Trimboli, from Springfield, Mass., also dressed as a medic at BronyCon at the Baltimore Convention Center. (Al Drago, Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore tourism officials trumpeted a record 29 citywide conventions booked for this year, even as they acknowledged that without an expanded convention center, that number might not ever grow.

Tourism officials have long complained about the size of the Baltimore Convention Center, which they feel puts the city at a disadvantage competing with other cities that have built larger convention centers in the last decade.

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Tom Noonan, the president of Visit Baltimore, said the number of large conventions booked was near what it was before the recession, but didn't feel the Baltimore Convention Center could accommodate many more. The convention center has 300,000 square feet of exhibit space — smaller than many competing cities' and less than half the size of Washington's convention center.

The organizers of Otakon, the Japanese and East Asian anime and culture convention, cited the center's size and age in their decision to move their massive meeting to Washington in 2017.

"We're kind of a second-generation convention center in what I would term a first-tier destination," Noonan said. "Next year are we going to have a conversation about 40 citywides? We're kind of capped. This is a peak year for us."

The Greater Baltimore Committee has proposed demolishing the east wing of the convention center, tripling its size and connecting it to the Royal Farms Arena, but the plan has not garnered financial backing.

Still, Noonan said the conventions booked this year will draw an estimated 206,000 people who will generate an economic impact of $138 million.

"Word has gotten out that Baltimore's a great meeting destination," Noonan said.

The conventions include Bronycon, the American Society of Human Genetics, and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

There were 20 citywide conventions held in 2013 and again in 2014 and the city has averaged 22 a year in the past several years, according to Visit Baltimore. Visit Baltimore officials say 26 conventions have been booked for 2016 and the tourism group is working to add more.

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