Conference center deemed viable Consultant sees Annapolis project as money, job maker


Building a small conference center in or near Annapolis could pump $23 million into the local economy and create nearly 200 new full-time jobs at area hotels, restaurants and other visitor-oriented businesses, an official with the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau said yesterday.

Those are among the key findings of a report being released next week by Arthur Andersen & Co., a national accounting firm, said Peggy Wall, executive vice president of the visitors bureau.

Arthur Andersen, which was hired by the city and county governments and the visitors bureau last month to determine if a conference center in Annapolis would be economically viable, has answered yes, Ms. Wall said.

The consultant, which presented its preliminary findings Wednesday, found a strong market for a 72,000-square-foot center near Annapolis that could accommodate small conferences or trade shows for groups of 600 to 1,500 people. By comparison, the Baltimore Convention Center will be able to accommodate conventions of 10,000 people when a recently approved expansion to 305,000 square feet is completed.

The Annapolis area center would be built by the city, county and visitors bureau. Construction could cost $20 million to $25 million, based on industry averages, Ms. Wall said.

Acquiring a site would be an additional expense. The consultant narrowed the number of sites being considered from 17 to six. The sites chosen for the proximity to Annapolis' hotels and major roads are:

* A 28-acre lot between Jennifer Road and Route 50, south of the Anne Arundel Medical Center.

* The Parole Shopping Center, which includes 35 acres.

* A 28-acre site southeast of Riva Road, formerly known as the Hellenic Center.

* Loretta Heights, an 8-acre parcel at the corner of West Street and Route 2.

* The Johnson Lumber Co. property, 8.3 acres near West Street and Chinquapin Round Road.

* A 5.8 acre site at West Street and Taylor Avenue, known as the Menke property.

Ms. Wall said a committee of business people and county and city officials will analyze the recommended sites and chose a final option by the end of December.

She said the committee probably will not consider a proposal by a local design firm to locate and build the conference center on 6.5 acres at the intersection of Rowe Boulevard and Taylor Avenue where a state police barracks stands.

Ronald C. Pappe & Associates introduced the plan this month, suggesting that Gov. William Donald Schaefer would be willing to move the barracks closer to Route 50.

However, Ms. Wall said yesterday that the committee has no reason to believe the property would be available and will move forward with analysis of the other sites.

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