Md. officials urge lawmakers to support Baltimore tourism


Try to think of when Harborplace wasn't even a dream, when the Hyatt was the city's first new hotel in almost 20 years, and when tourism meant absolutely nothing except the Maryland Science Center.

As distant a memory as that is, and as vibrant as Baltimore's tourism and hospitality industries appear, they will wither and die on the vine without a steady supply of state dollars, according to industry and state officials.

"Fifteen or so years later, it's all too easy to forget what's been accomplished here and what it took to do it," said Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of the Department of Economic and Employment Development.

"You've been forthcoming with the resources," Mr. Wasserman told members of the House Appropriations Committee, which held a hearing in City Hall yesterday on state construction spending in Baltimore. "But in the ensuing years, you're going to have to pay to keep this vital industry alive."

Since 1981, the state has spent an average of $237.5 million a year on construction in Baltimore City, he said. And of the total $366 million a year from all sources, almost 10,000 jobs a year have been created around the state in what economists call "economic ripple," which refers not only to construction jobs, but to all those employed as an indirect result of the spending.

Statewide, the tourism industry generates $65 million a year in state and local taxes.

In this year's legislative session, the General Assembly voted to spend $101 million on an expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center. Already, three major conventions have been booked because of that vote, according to Wayne Chappell, executive director of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors' Association.

But the committee also heard from some who say the tourism and hospitality industries haven't spread the wealth evenly.

"We've heard about the numbers, we've heard about the taxes and infrastructure. But we see workers who end up in our soup kitchens, we see workers struggling with two or three jobs, trying to make ends meet for their families" because the major hotels pay minimum wage or less to minority workers, according to the Rev. Arnold Howard, co-chairman of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, a church-based community organization.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, the committee's chairman, acknowledged the "perception that there are populations being left out of this growing industry."

But he said the state's capital investments in Baltimore have paid off and should be continued.

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