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Convention Center expansion: Here we go again

A politically well connected developer proposes a new hotel, arena and convention center. The Maryland Stadium Authority, which is in the business of building new arenas, commissions a study from a consultant that specializes in providing services to convention centers and hotels. The consultant reports (surprise!!) that the new facilities will be a boon to the city's economy. The mayor predicts it will "spark new growth throughout the city," and the Greater Baltimore Committee head says we "can't stand still if we want to still be a significant player in the convention-tourism destination business." ("Study: New arena, larger convention center would transform city," March 5.)

It's business as usual in Baltimore. Weren't we told the same things before the last expansion of the convention center? Wasn't the same rationale used to justify public financing of a convention center hotel that was supposed to make us competitive? Didn't we just pay for a car race to fill the hotels we had to build to try to fill the Convention Center? Won't this round of expansion inevitably require even more? Haven't we been here before?

Is anyone benefiting from this other than the developers who receive tax breaks to build the hotels and publicly financed convention facilities? Oh, there are a few hundred workers who get low wage jobs as maids, waiters and taxi drivers to service the influx of expected tourists, but on their wages, they generally can't afford to buy homes in Baltimore. The absolute faith placed in a tourism economy has not worked for the majority of Baltimoreans. Over the last 40 years our tourism traffic may have increased, but our population and quality of life have certainly declined.

Perhaps, before we commission more studies on how to remain in this dead end race to be a "competitive destination," we could invest in some studies on how to make Baltimore a more livable city for residents instead of tourists Perhaps we could ask how to bring real, meaningful jobs through education, or how to build the and infrastructure that would make Baltimore attractive to industry. Let's try to figure out how to make Baltimore a place that people would want to live and work, instead of a place they only want to visit. Maybe if we ask different questions we will find some different answers — answers that will not be business as usual.

Mac Nachlas, Baltimore

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