Convention Center addition questioned


ANNAPOLIS -- The chairman of the Baltimore Convention Center Authority went before state legislators yesterday to field questions on his agency's budget request but instead wound up defending its sole task -- overseeing the expansion of the downtown facility.

Chairman Robert S. Hillman expected to discuss with the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Health and the Environment the $99,000 in funding the authority has requested from the state to cover administrative and operational expenses for the next year.

Instead, the meeting chaired by Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, centered on the proposed expansion of the Convention Center.

That came as a surprise, since a separate hearing, as yet unscheduled, was planned for discussion of the $2 million the authority is seeking from the state's capital budget to hire architects and engineers who would help pin down the final cost of enlarging the center.

"Why should we give you $2 million" and thereby commit to "the largest project I'm aware of that's not transportation that the state has ever engaged in?" Mr. Rawlings asked Mr. Hillman during the session.

Delegates also asked why the private sector shouldn't share the burden of the expansion and whether the center should simply remain the same size.

The Convention Center Authority was created last year to explore the feasibility of expanding the center and to make recommendations.

The authority estimates the expansion would cost $100 million to $150 million. Under the authority's plan, the state would back revenue bonds to pay for the entire project.

"The $2 million commitment is like buying into a $150 million commitment," Mr. Rawlings said.

Mr. Hillman said the expansion would increase tax revenues from groups visiting the city. He closed his testimony by saying, "This is not a plan to spend state money. It's a plan to earn money for the state."

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