Fairground operators to work with city center Despite expansion, they say Timonium site won't compete with downtown; Some show sponsors favor county venue


Timonium Fairgrounds operators, planning a major expansion, pledged yesterday to cooperate -- not compete -- with the Baltimore Convention Center for regional trade shows.

But some trade show organizers said they favor using the fairgrounds because they have been treated like second-class citizens at the downtown convention center, which dwarfs its suburban counterpart.

One organizer, who moved a show from the Convention Center to the fairgrounds this year, said he hadn't heard from convention center officials -- until yesterday, when an article in The Sun outlined the potential city-county competition.

In a proposal called "very preliminary," fairgrounds operators want to link two buildings with a new hall to create a 270,000-square-foot complex.

The cost would be $4 million to $5 million.

They said Tuesday that once the downtown convention center's expansion is finished, that center will concentrate on major events, leaving 50 to 60 smaller regional shows up for grabs.

But a convention center official responded that the center would not relinquish that business without a fight.

Max Mosner, fairgrounds general manager and vice president, said yesterday there would be enough business for everyone.

"There won't be a battle," Mr. Mosner said. "I can guarantee that."

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said he had called Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to assure him that the county simply wanted to take some overflow business from the convention center "to fill a void," not to compete with the city.

"I want to begin focusing more on tourism," Mr. Ruppersberger said.

The Baltimore Convention Center is in the midst of an expansion that should more than double the exhibition space to 300,000 square feet.

Meanwhile, organizers of the International Auto Show, a restaurant trade show and a home and garden show said they have had difficulty nailing down dates at the convention center, which concentrates on booking major events that generate heavy hotel use.

"We've been told time and time again by convention center officials that 'We're here to put heads on beds,' " said James K. Donahue, chief executive officer of Industrial Shows of America of Lutherville.

The company books 32 shows a year nationwide.

Moving the auto show to Timonium last year was "a good experience," he said, adding that organizers were treated "shabbily" in Baltimore.

Chuck Cross, vice president of the company, said the county and city should work together to accommodate regional shows and conventions, as Atlanta-area localities do.

His company also moved an industrial trade show to Timonium, where parking and access is better, he said.

"We haven't been called [by convention center officials] to get that back," he said, adding that he had no contact from the convention center until yesterday's newspaper article.

Marcia Harris, Restaurant Association of Maryland vice president who now is planning her annual trade show for Oct. 25 and 26 at the fairgrounds, said her group kept getting bumped from its arranged dates at the convention center whenever a convention booking came along.

"We kept getting worse and worse dates," Ms. Harris said, adding that she moved to Timonium four years ago.

She now has solid dates in October for years to come, she said.

Jay Plummer, whose Glen Burnie firm has a twice-yearly home and garden show, also complained about being bumped from dates that had been set by the convention center.

"You can't build your business" without firm dates, he said, adding that "we prefer to stay out [in Timonium] where we have definite dates."

His next show is Oct. 19 and 20.

County economic development director Robert L. Hannon said he would work with city and convention center officials to "be complementary" if the 50,000- to 70,000-square-foot hall is built at the fairgrounds to create the 270,000-square-foot complex.

County officials also want to find a new location, perhaps near the southeastern county's waterfront, for a small exhibition hall.

The hall would be used to house the 200 one-day shows that might be displaced from the fairgrounds by larger, longer-running shows.

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