Spotlight on city's Convention Center NTSB hearings: Expanded facility easily accommodated discussion of N.Y. air crash.


MANY PEOPLE IN the Baltimore area had divergent feelings about the recent public hearings on the crash of TWA Flight 800. There was, of course, the horror everyone experienced when learning once more the details surrounding that 1996 Long Island, N.Y., tragedy that left 230 passengers dead.

But many of us couldn't help but feel satisfaction that the newly expanded Baltimore Convention Center had been chosen as the site for the largest public hearing ever by the National Transportation Safety Board.

A casual remark by a television commentator that the city's Convention Center was chosen simply because it was available was misleading.

The site wasn't picked because the Convention Center would otherwise have been empty. No, it happened because a Convention Center sales manager with links to the airline industry was able to show the NTSB just what the expanded facility had to offer.

Not only did the Convention Center's size accommodate the NTSB, but during the same week it was the site for a J. Crew trade show, an Amway convention of 5,000 people and a convention of the American Society of Association Executives, which brought another 2,000 people to the downtown facility. That last group's visit was particularly important to Baltimore because it includes the officers of other organizations that are looking for sites to hold their conventions.

The Convention Center is doing wonderfully right now, but its future without a nearby convention hotel is deeply troubling.

Carroll Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of the city's convention bureau, says 1997 and 1998 will be banner years. Use of the Convention Center in the past has meant no more than 130,000 room-nights a year for city hotels. But this year that figure will be 260,000 and it will be at least 262,000 room-nights in 1998 and may reach 287,000 if expected bookings are fulfilled.

Then comes the drop-off.

Indecision over the fate of new hotels proposed for Baltimore is largely responsible for fewer organizations booking future conventions in the city. Only 207,000 room-nights have been booked for 1999 and 99,000 of them were the result of an aggressive short-term marketing campaign. The numbers really tumble after that -- all the way to 92,876 in 2002.

Those numbers will improve, but how much hinges on Baltimore City's ability to answer the downtown hotel question. The National Transportation Safety Board hearings showed that the Convention Center can be sold, but it needs a nearby hotel -- not one a mile away -- to complete the package.

Pub Date: 12/23/97

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