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Baltimore Convention Center needs greater investment | READER COMMENTARY

The 757-room Hilton Baltimore hotel, built by Baltimore City in the mid-2000s, overlooks the BabeÕs Dream statute at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The hotel has struggled to turn a profit under the crippling weight of its debt. After refinancing the bonds in 2017, the hotel continued to perform below projections, but it was eking out a profit.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, the hotel has been bleeding money, triggering cash infusions from the city.
Sept. 12, 2022.

I want to thank The Baltimore Sun editorial board for not only highlighting the needs of the tourism industry in the Baltimore region, acknowledging the need for a solution to our convention campus challenges, but for also shining a light on what got us here in the first place — which is a lack of funding for the Baltimore Convention Center (”Buddy, can you spare $16 million for a convention hotel?” Sept. 14). As we look at the Hilton Hotel in tandem with our existing convention offerings, one thing is clear: Right now, we have an opportunity to invest and reimagine our convention-focused assets to position Baltimore as the next major destination for meetings, trade shows and conventions.

This is an exciting moment for downtown Baltimore with all the public and private investment happening on the Pratt Street corridor: $150 million renovation to the Baltimore Arena; the reimagining of Harborplace; major developments taking place in Harbor East; and the $1.2 billion going into the stadiums. We have everything going for us: ease for travelers, walkability, beautiful waterfront, diversity in people, arts, culture and food. It’s important to recognize that success for Baltimore is a success for the region. We need to think about how all the pieces fit together for Baltimore to be a destination that attracts leisure visitors and conventions alike.

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As president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, my focus every hour of every day is to generate economic benefits for the region by marketing Baltimore as an ideal destination for visitors, meetings and conventions.

The tourism industry continues to be a critical driver of our regional economy, bringing in 24.3 million visitors to in 2021, who spent a total of $2.7 billion. However, we are in critical need of investment in our tourism industry in order to truly realize our potential.

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Currently, the Baltimore Convention Center is one of the oldest meeting spaces in the industry, originally constructed in 1979 and most recently renovated 25 years ago. Plainly speaking, we have not remained competitive. We need to be larger in scale, modernized with updated amenities and equipped with the latest technology to meet the evolving demands of meeting planners and their organizations.

When we compare Baltimore to other cities, we can see that cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland have each invested over $300 million in modernization alone, while Columbus invested $140 million. Each of these cities have seen an increase of 18% in 12-month average hotel ADR (average daily rate) within five years after renovations of their convention centers were completed.

The reality is that Baltimore’s outdated and inadequate convention space has led to missed opportunities for our city. From 2013 through 2022, we have lost the business of 426,000 possible attendees, with the potential of losing over a half-million because of the facility condition alone. From an economic standpoint, this equates to a loss of 719,970 room nights and $14 million in local tax revenue.

There is no disagreement that the city has many opportunities worthy of support, but without funding improvements to the Baltimore Convention Center we run the risk of losing new and different opportunities to capture new visitors and revenue for the city and the state. An investment in the modernization of the Baltimore Convention Center is an investment in the future prosperity of our city and critical to strengthening our position as a leading East Coast destination for regional, national and international meetings and conventions.

— Al Hutchinson, Baltimore

The writer is president and CEO of Visit Baltimore.

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