Baltimore Convention Center expansion: A real opportunity for downtown

Marta Mossburg's "Convention Center expansion: Build it and they won't come" (June 8) offers a roadmap for destroying Baltimore as a tourist destination. Imagine Baltimore without Harborplace, the Aquarium, the Science Center, M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Convention Center and the Marriott Waterfront, Hyatt and Sheraton hotels. These public-private investments put Baltimore on the tourism map and drive tax revenue into the city.

Tourism is one of the largest industries in the city. To dismiss the need for a new downtown arena and an expanded Convention Center is to ignore the $1.1 billion in annual local, state and federal tax revenues generated by the tourism community and the 74,000 jobs it supports in the region.

Currently, the Baltimore Convention Center is the 73rd largest in the United States. Without an expansion, we cannot accommodate larger groups, host multiple groups simultaneously or further drive hotel demand throughout the city.

Had we not proceeded with the 1996 expansion, today we would be the 215th largest center in the country, with only 115,000 square feet of meeting space. Our competition in Philadelphia, Washington and Boston is already years ahead of us in terms of updating, renovating or building new convention centers. If we don't keep up, Baltimore's job base, tax collections and downtown area will all suffer from lost business.

Like many industries, the tourism industry is cyclical and is heavily influenced by the economy. Critics of the proposed plan are shouting about down attendance numbers at the Convention Center during some of the worst economic years in recent memory. Yet despite the down economy, the city booked 2 percent more hotel rooms in 2009 than in 2008, and 11.5 percent more rooms in 2010 than in 2009.

The need for a new arena and an expanded convention center, combined with businessman Willard Hackerman's commitment to assemble private financing for half the cost of the project, presents a rare opportunity for Baltimore to add facilities that will attract sporting events, concerts and large religious and political conventions. Now is the time to implement a bold plan to increase future tax revenues to the city and its residents.

Ed Hale and Tom Noonan, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, chairman of the Baltimore Convention + Tourism Board and president and CEO of Visit Baltimore.

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