It's easy for a demagogue in the General Assembly to decry the proposed expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center. After all, this is a $150 million project, with $100 million coming from the state. In a time of taxpayer resentment against any large-sized government spending, some legislators are gleefully trying to block this project.
That is a shortsighted and painfully costly position. This is one government initiative where the taxpayer comes out ahead. In fact, were the naysayers successful in voting down this project, taxpayers would wind up owing millions more every year to bail out a debt-laden convention center.
The reason is that without a major expansion, Baltimore's convention facility can't compete against other larger centers. Mid-sized and larger trade shows can't even consider Baltimore any more. There isn't enough exhibition space. Without expansion, Baltimore's convention business is projected to drop percent. That translates into a recession for area hotels and restaurants, and for suppliers on the Eastern Shore and suburban Washington. It also means a sharp drop in state tax revenue of millions of dollars.
Yet if legislators approve a bigger convention center, this would create new jobs during construction and the economic impact statewide would be $337 million. Business at the center is expected to increase by a whopping 70 percent. Tax revenues from the added business would mean a hefty profit of at least $5 million a year, even after paying off the revenue bonds.
This is a winning proposal, one that pays for itself, provides a tidy profit for taxpayers and enhances Maryland's reputation as a trade-show center. We are counting on House Speaker Clay Mitchell and Senate President Mike Miller to use their considerable influence to get this worthwhile project approved. Let the demagogues have their say, but in the end the convention center must be enlarged. It's either that or watching convention business -- and state tax revenue -- go elsewhere.