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Hotel-restaurant funds urged for center's tab


Several members of Anne Arundel County's Senate delegation said yesterday that the hotel and restaurant industry should pay a substantial part of the cost of a proposed $25 million Annapolis conference center.

The plan, as it now stands, is to publicly finance the conference center with state and local funds. A committee charged with developing plans for the center is seeking $1.5 million for design and engineering -- $1 million from the state and $250,000 each from Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

But, because hotels and restaurants would benefit economically from the increased tourism the conference center would attract, several senators said, they should be willing to pay their share.

"It's a tremendous benefit to existing hotels and restaurants," said Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Annapolis. "Private participation is a really good selling point for everybody."

The committee is considering two proposed sites for the conference center: the 11-acre Menke-Phipps tract at Taylor Avenue and West Street in Annapolis, owned by Fred Menke and Louis Phipps, and a 28-acre parcel owned by the Anne Arundel Medical Center on the south side of Jennifer Road near the Annapolis Mall.

Tom Negri, who heads a committee of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau that is studying the conference center, said private businesses were willing to finance a transportation system serving the center at a cost of between $3.5 million and $5 million.

The shuttle system would use buses seating between 12 and 16 passengers. It would link the conference center with downtown Annapolis, local hotels, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas.

"It's significant dollars over the life of the conference center," Mr. Negri said. A transportation network of this kind "does not exist at this time, so this will be a good opportunity," he said.

But Sen. John A. Cade, was less than impressed.

"So far, all I've heard [about] is some jitney buses," said the Severna Park Republican. "You're not going to get my vote."

Mr. Cade suggested raising the 7 percent hotel tax as a way for businesses to raise money for the conference center.

But Mr. Negri said that would put local hotels at a competitive disadvantage with nearby counties, like Prince George's, which have lower room tax rates.

In other business, the Senate delegation voted to endorse a bill that would provide half of the $5 million needed by Annapolis to reconstruct Main Street.

The project would include replacing and burying utility lines, rebricking and landscaping.

In addition, Sheriff Robert G. Pepersack Sr. presented the delegation with four bills for its consideration:

* To raise the sheriff's salary to $65,000 from $42,000.

* To assess a $245 fee on anyone found guilty of a charge of failure to appear for a court hearing.

* A bill that would allow the county government to seize the property of prisoners, even if they claim to be destitute, to collect unpaid court fees.

* To assess a $100 fee against criminal defendants and the losing party in a civil case whenever a sheriff provides security in a courtroom.

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