TODAY'S INAUGURATION of Baltimore's expanded Convention Center is cause for jubilation. The $151 million addition, which virtually triples the size of the facility, is breathtaking. It will give the city and meeting planners the kind of flexibility they have asked for.
Opening this distinctive downtown landmark should be a call for action. To maximize the use of the convention center, Baltimore badly needs a convention headquarters hotel. That means a complex of approximately 1,200 rooms and flexible meeting and catering spaces that can complement the Convention Center. No current hotel has more than 700 rooms.
A logical site for such a hotel would be near the Convention
Center, which itself is equidistant from the Inner Harbor and the Camden Yards sports complex that accommodates Oriole Park and the future site of the Baltimore Ravens football stadium.
The economics of the hotel industry these days are such that virtually all new hotels need some type of public-private partnership. That's why the Schmoke administration -- and the city's business community -- must start aggressively recruiting a major chain to build a headquarters hotel here. That's what Baltimore needs -- and not another mid-sized hostelry. The city also lacks a good mix of room prices, particularly in the lower and mid-priced ranges.
Stepping inside Baltimore's expanded Convention Center (built with state funds) is an awesome experience. Its roof is the size of five football fields. About 16,000 tons of structural steel were required to construct long span trusses that eliminated the need for all but four weight-bearing columns. Another measure of the hugeness of the largely subterranean complex is the 18-mile length of its sprinkler system -- enough to ring the city of Baltimore.
Many other cities have built fabulous convention centers in recent years only to see them fail economically because of inadequate use. Baltimore's new facility allows the city to go after 80 percent of the country's convention business -- almost anything but the big national political conventions.
The city's key weakness in attracting conventions is in its small hotel capacity and its lack of a large headquarters hotel. This is a matter the Schmoke administration must address with speed and determination.
Pub Date: 9/06/96