xml:space="preserve">

Several Maryland and Anne Arundel County elected officials had an unlikely appointment Wednesday morning: A trip to the Live Casino.

Donning shiny, white hard hats, County Executive Steuart Pittman, state Sen. Pam Beidle, Del. Sandy Bartlett, D-Maryland City, and House Delegation Chairman Mark Chang, D-Glen Burnie, spent the morning touring The Hall at Live, a new event center still under construction.

Advertisement

The 75,000-square-foot venue has been a long time coming for Anne Arundel County. In early 2017, former County Executive Steve Schuh asked the state legislative delegation to pass a bill that allowed county government to give tax breaks to real estate development projects that provide a substantial public benefit to Anne Arundel County residents. The passage of that bill eventually allowed the County Council to pass a bill that would give The Cordish Cos. — which owns Live Casino and Hotel in Hanover — up to a $36 million tax break on the proposed hotel and conference center, effectively green-lighting the project.

As a candidate, Pittman opposed the payment in lieu of taxes deal, called a PILOT. It allowed Live! to pay the county $1 a year for 30 years, instead of up to $1.2 million in property taxes for each of those years. Now, he said, what’s done is done — “Looking forward, it’s hard to deny that this facility is going to be good for the county. It certainly is good for the county.”

The venue can seat between 1,600 and 4,800 people, depending on how it’s configured. It includes a large ballroom, 10 breakout rooms and an event theater.

Starting this spring, Anne Arundel County Public Schools will hold most of its high school graduations in The Hall. The ability to host high school graduations at the venue for free was part of the argument for the PILOT plan — according to the auditor’s fiscal note, the 12 high school graduations a year cost the county about $62,400 a year. Most have been staged at facilities outside the county.

George Arlotto, county superintendent of schools, said no one is more excited about this than he is.

In the coming months, high school principals will be touring the venue to nail down logistics for their ceremonies, said Bob Mosier, schools spokesman.

There has been criticism about holding high school graduations at a casino, which Mosier said he understands. He specified that The Hall is technically not a casino, but a building attached to a casino.

Although Live officials said The Hall is seamlessly designed to connect to the casino floor, Mosier said the casino will be completely blocked off to students during graduations.

“For the first time, we are able to have our graduations in our county,” Mosier said. “That’s the immediate impact.”

Beidle said her niece will be among the first to graduate from The Hall, and she’s excited the ceremonies will get to be held inside the county.

The facility is versatile, with seating options on three different levels, and a variety of different bars for easy access to food and drink, depending on the type of event. Robert Norton, CEO of Live!, declined to provide the total cost of the project but said the audio-visual system alone cost $10 million.

The space is an extension of an events center already connected to the casino, which Live! uses for similar events on a smaller scale.

“The original space was great,” Norton said. “Now it’s bigger, but it’s not bigger in a way that feels less intimate.”

In addition to county graduations, the facility will be used for sporting events like boxing matches, a gathering space for private events including banquets or weddings, and entertainment.

Advertisement

Joe Weinberg, CEO of Cordish Companies, said, “a world-class county needs a world-class gathering space.”

In the coming months, Jill Scott, Josh Groban, O.A.R., Prince Royce, and other notable music and comedy acts are slated to perform at The Hall.

Pittman said it’s becoming the type of economic driver that every jurisdiction needs.

“The big picture is, this makes this part of the county — which is right between Baltimore and D.C. — a place where things should be happening,” Pittman said. “It really does make it the entertainment destination for the Mid Atlantic.”

He said he’s been to Live! for events seven or eight times over the past six months, and that it’s also the type of place he looks forward to coming on a date night with his wife. For him, it’s not just about the economy — it’s about the quality of life.

“People are going to be coming here from everywhere and it’s going to be great for the county,” Pittman said. “It’s going to be great for the tax base, but really it’s going to be great for people who are going to come together.”

Capital assistant editor Chase Cook contributed to this story.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement