Expansion funding falls short $2 million sought for Convention Center


ANNAPOLIS -- Advocates of doubling the size of Baltimore's Convention Center came up short this week in their quest for $2 million in initial design funds from House and Senate committees.

A subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee agreed Tuesday night to provide $1.7 million in funds this year for the expansion, which ultimately could cost about $150 million, its advocates say.

And yesterday the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee's capital budget subcommittee put a challenge to the Convention Center Authority: no money from the state unless the private sector contributes.

"We felt very strongly that the private sector is not doing its share in this facility," said Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, a committee member. The panel pledged to provide up $1 million, but only if the Convention Center Authority is able to raise an equal amount from the private sector.

Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, who is chairman of the subcommittee, said that if the differences in proposed funding levels remain after the capital budgets pass each house, a conference committee will have to iron out the differences.

"It seems that every time there's a big project -- for example, Camden Yards [stadium] -- in other states the private sector gets involved," Mr. Smelser said.

The matching grant plan was the idea of Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel. But Robert Hillman, chairman of the Convention Center Authority, told Mr. Cade last week that raising more money from the private sector would be difficult. "We already collected $100,000 for the initial design studies," he said.

At that hearing, Mr. Hillman argued that without the expansion, Baltimore will lose convention business to cities with larger facilities.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore Co., argued that increased tourism and tax dollars generated by the Convention Center have more than paid off the revenue bonds used to build it. Expanding the facility makes economic sense, she said.

But Mr. Lapides suggested that "there may be a small percentage of conventions that Baltimore will just never be able to have, because we're just not large enough a city to have them."

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