Sites for center debated


Businessmen and residents along the inner West Street corridor in Annapolis are aggressively courting a proposed conference center in hopes that it would invigorate their community.

When a joint public-private site selection committee meets this afternoon to narrow the possible sites from five to two, one option -- an 11-acre tract at the corner of Taylor and West Streets known as the Mencke-Phipps tract -- will have endorsements from Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, the business community and residents of Presidents Hill.

"It would be a tremendous boost in the arm to that part of town, from Calvert Street on out to the Loews [Annapolis] Hotel and so on," Mr. Hopkins said.

Maryland Hall officials are excited about the potential that a 2,000-seat auditorium in the new conference center could become home to the Annapolis Symphony. They also anticipate construction of a traffic circle at the West Street, Taylor Avenue and Spa Road intersections that would provide better access to Maryland Hall itself.

But another site that has not been previously considered may be picking up support.

Jerome W. Klasmeier, county director of central services, said a conference center is one use that will be considered for the former Wiley H. Bates High School today during a 6 p.m. meeting of County Executive Robert R. Neall's Bates Advisory Committee.

For years, black residents have sought to convert the 16-acre campus, home of the only black high school in Anne Arundel County before desegregation, into a community and senior center. Frustration and fear that Mr. Neall will not support that plan has some ready to consider other options.

Mr. Neall's administration told the city last winter that it did not have the money to build a senior center at the Bates site, and a spokeswoman said yesterday that little has changed since then.

"There has been a great deal of informal discussion in the African-American community, if Bates should be considered as an option" for a conference center, said Dallas Evans, a member of the Bates Advisory Committee. "I think it should, certainly. This seems to be an opportunity for the entire community, but particularly the African-American community."

Other development options, including senior and low-cost housing, also will be considered for the Bates site, said Mr. Klasmeier, whose department manages county-owned buildings.

Tom Negri, chairman of the conference center committee, said Bates is not among the sites his panel will discuss today and that he hopes to have a final site selected by February.

Mr. Negri cited the school's historic nature, wetlands and traffic as potential obstacles to building a conference center there. "We may give it a glance, but we won't formally throw it into the hopper," he said.

But if the land costs for the other sites prove too steep for a conference center, one Neall administration official said, the site selection committee may be forced to consider the Bates property because the county already owns it.

The conference center committee, which includes county and city officials, and representatives of the hotel and restaurant industries, paid a national accounting firm $30,000 this fall to study the feasibility of operating a 72,000-square-foot facility in Annapolis that could accommodate 1,500 or more people.

The study found that such a center would pump $23 million annually into the local economy and create 200 new full-time jobs at area hotels, restaurants and other visitor-oriented businesses.

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