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Conference center urged for Annapolis Committee also proposes that parcel include hotel


A committee studying possible uses for the last remaining undeveloped piece of land inside Annapolis city limits recommended to the city council last night a proposed conference center with an adjacent 275-room hotel.

Suzanne Weissinger, who chairs the committee, said the city should build a 70,000-square-foot center on the site at West Street and Taylor Avenue.

Her remarks came at the first of three public hearings required by the council before it can vote on the recommendation.

The committee -- which has voted 7-2 to accept a market and financial analysis by Cathedral Street-based ZHA Inc. -- thought issues such as tax revenues, sewer upgrades, debt service, traffic and transportation needed more study before any building begins.

One committee member, John Sherwood of Southgate Avenue, cautioned the council that developing the site goes "beyond economics and into the public service sphere."

ZHA's analysis of the 11.3-acre site at West and Taylor -- known as the Menke/Phipps property -- recommends a building that includes space for a ballroom, meeting rooms and exhibit space to attract groups of 300 to 600 people.

ZHA reports that Annapolis is a good location for the $20.1 million facility because of the city's tourism and proximity to Baltimore and Washington.

The demand exists, and the community would benefit from the conference center, said ZHA Vice President Sarah Woodworth.

But the city also would need to build a hotel within walking distance to make the conference center a success, Woodworth said.

A hotel would increase the center's attractiveness to clients, and the city would reap about $500,000 a year in benefits, said Woodworth.

Without a hotel, the city could lose more than $1 million each year, Woodworth said.

"It is more normal to lose money than break even with this kind of project. But the operating deficit is lower with an adjacent hotel," Woodworth said.

ZHA's report is the second of its kind. A 1993 report, done by Arthur Andersen Real Estate Services Group, also found Annapolis well-suited for a conference center.

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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