City and state officials are looking to revive a proposal to build a bigger Baltimore convention center, an idea that previously failed to get off the ground despite years of discussion.
The Maryland Stadium Authority plans to commission a study looking at ways to renovate the existing center, developing conceptual designs and conducting research into traffic, environmental and other impacts.
The stadium authority board voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with the study, which would be complete in fall 2017 at an expected cost of $1 million. In addition to securing funding, a second study with construction cost estimates and other details would have to be completed before building, stadium authority officials said.
The study is expected to compare the new concept to a more ambitious proposal floated earlier that would have combined a convention center expansion with a new, privately financed arena and hotel.
That $900 million plan — which the stadium authority described in a 2012 economic impact study — lost traction after the death of construction magnate Willard Hackerman, who would have helped finance it.
Visit Baltimore, which oversees the city's convention business, described the new study as an important step forward. For years, officials at Visit Baltimore have called on the city and state to improve the center, citing the need to compete with bigger facilities in other cities.
The problem was brought into greater focus by the 2013 decision by organizers of Otakon to move their growing anime convention to the larger center in Washington, D.C., after this year.
"The current building has been operating at practically maximum capacity for many years and demand exists within the meetings marketplace for a renovated and or expanded building in Baltimore," said Amy Calvert, senior vice president of convention sales and services for Visit Baltimore.
The study, she said, would help determine "how much and what kind of space will be most beneficial to driving the most economic return to both the city and the state for years to come."
The stadium authority approached city and state leaders about considering a convention center renovation this year after funding for a study failed to make it out of the General Assembly, said Michael Frenz, the authority's executive director. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sent a formal letter to the authority last month requesting the study.
Business interests have asked that the bigger, more "game-changing" plan remain under consideration in the study, in addition to the more limited overhaul of the convention center initially proposed by the stadium authority, said board chair Thomas Kelso.
To move forward, city, state and other private funders need to formally sign an agreement, which officials said they expect to happen in the next few weeks.
Officials said the city has committed to contributing about $313,333 and the state about $500,000. The Greater Baltimore Committee and Downtown Partnership are kicking in $30,000 each, with the stadium authority paying for the remainder.
Downtown Partnership President Kirby Fowler said his group believes an expansion is important to maintaining downtown's vitality, but is open to possibilities for how it might work.
The Greater Baltimore Committee and the Hackerman family could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
As city and state leaders weigh how to move forward, stadium authority board member Leonard Attman said they also should consider the cost of renovating the Royal Farms Arena by itself.
That is not inside the scope of the proposed work, but the city has looked at that idea, said Kaliope Parthemos, chief of staff to Rawlings-Blake.