Baltimore Convention Center
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (July 2013)|
|Baltimore Convention Center|
Baltimore Convention Center, 2004
|Address||1 West Pratt Street|
|Owner||The City of Baltimore|
|Renovated||1996 (1979 wing)|
|Construction cost||$200 million|
|• Total space||1,225,000 square feet (113,800 m2)|
|• Exhibit hall floor||300,000 square feet (28,000 m2)|
|• Breakout/meeting||85,000 square feet (7,900 m2)|
|• Ballroom||32,000 square feet (3,000 m2)|
|Public transit access||Convention Center (Baltimore Light Rail station)|
The Baltimore Convention Center is a convention and exhibition hall located in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. The Center is a municipal building owned and operated by the City of Baltimore. The facility was constructed in two separate phases: the original Center, with 425,000 square feet (39,500 m2) of exhibition and meeting space, opened in August 1979 at a cost of $51.4 million. A $151 million expansion, which increased the Center's total size to 1,225,000 square feet (113,800 m2), was completed in April 1997. The 752-room, city-owned Hilton Baltimore hotel opened in August 2008, connected to the convention center by an enclosed skywalk bridge. Another expansion to the Baltimore Convention Center has been proposed at an estimated cost of $400 million that includes a new 500 room hotel and an 18,500 seat arena; this project is estimated to cost $900 million.
As was the case with Harborplace, which opened in 1980; the Maryland Science Center, which opened in 1976; and the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which opened in 1981, the Convention Center was intended to be a catalyst for tourism, an important part of the City's post-manufacturing economic development plans. An Abell Foundation report in June 2005 describes the Convention Center as having been "built as an economic development tool to attract to Baltimore conventions, trade shows, and meetings that would leave in the city millions of dollars spent on lodging, food, entertainment, and other services." (Controversy, 2005, p. 3) A report on economic development in the area, entitled Subsidizing the Low Road: Economic Development in Baltimore, states that "public and non-profit facilities such as the Maryland Science Center, the World Trade Center, the Convention Center, and the National Aquarium" (Subsidizing, 2002, p. 11) were part of then-mayor Schaefer's "focus on real estate, retailing and tourism sectors" (p. 10), as areas for growth, as well as his utilization of "'public/private partnerships' to pursue economic development" (p. 11).
During the next two decades, due in part to the success of the Convention Center and the other attractions, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium, Power Plant Live!, and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History, have joined the area, creating a ten-block plus entertainment and cultural destination at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, further increasing tourist dollars flowing into the region.
A June 2005 Greater Baltimore Committee report on tourism in Baltimore illustrates the importance of tourism in the current Baltimore region's economy:
Hospitality and tourism and the convention industry are vital components of the region’s economy. According to the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association (BACVA), spending from domestic travelers in 2002 was $8.476 billion statewide; $2.8 billion in Baltimore alone. This spending supported $719 million in state and local taxes while providing over 44,000 regional jobs.(Voices, 2005)
One major convention held in the convention center is Otakon, a convention that focuses on Anime and other facets of East Asian culture. The convention has resided in the Baltimore Convention Center since 1999. In 2013, the convention attracted 34,211 people. However, organizers of that convention announced at the close of the 2013 event plans to move to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC for at least five years starting in 2017. Convention officials cited space concerns, along with the uncertainty of construction plans for the convention center and a new arena. According to WBAL-TV, Baltimore's local NBC news affiliate, due to the pending departure of Otakon in 2017 to Washington D.C., concerns were mounting regarding Baltimore's economic future when it came to tourism.
The Convention Center is also viewed as important to the recent development on Baltimore's West Side. According to Ronald M. Kreitner, executive director of West Side Renaissance Inc., the "Convention Center will help contribute to the success of the theatres and the retail," referring to the development of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center/Hippodrome Theatre, as well as new retail ventures in the area. (Renaissance, 2003)
By 2013, the center was playing a major role in the city's tourism growth, with conventions, seminars, conferences and exhibitions helping boost visitor numbers that year to 23.9 million, and expenditure by visitors to $5.15 billion. Visit Baltimore President Tom Noonan noted in July 2014 Baltimore was leading other cities in terms of future convention center bookings, through until 2021.
Despite the continuing growth and redevelopment in the area, the expanded Convention Center has not met expectations with respect to the number of conventions and people it attracts each year. Irene E. Van Sant, then-manager of the Convention Center Hotel Project for the Baltimore Development Corporation, Baltimore's former Mayor Sheila Dixon, and Governor of Maryland Martin O'Malley—feel that a hotel adjacent to the Convention Center will make it a more appealing site for conventions. The completion of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. and the National Harbor project in Prince George's County intensified the debate.
In general, supporters of a convention hotel say that for the Convention Center to be viable in the future, and compete with other cities for conventions, a new "Headquarters" hotel is necessary to guarantee enough rooms for group meetings. Opponents of the hotel project have either questioned the necessity of a new hotel altogether or objected to the use of public dollars to finance the project. The Baltimore Convention Center hotel, named Hilton Baltimore, broke ground in February 2006 and opened in August 2008. It has 752 rooms and is the city's largest hotel, connected directly to the Convention Center via sky bridge. Baltimore City used public revenue bonds to cover the $301.7 million cost of building the hotel.
Proposed arena-hotel-convention center project
When the 1996 expansion to the Baltimore Convention Center opened, the convention center was ranked 28th largest in the nation in terms of exhibition and meeting space. By 2011, the convention center plummeted to 73rd largest and, as a result, Baltimore is losing convention business. Visit Baltimore reports that the Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel that opened in August 2008 is helping, but since the opening of the Hilton the city has lost over 700,000 hotel-night bookings due to the convention center being too small to meet the needs of a group or the dates the group wanted was not available.
It has been argued that if Baltimore does not expand its convention center, the city could "fall off the map as a potential convention choice". Nearby cities have or are in the process of expanding convention and hotel space, such as Washington D.C. (opened the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in 2003 with plans to open a 1,175-room Marriott Marquis hotel with 100,000 square feet (9,300 m2) of convention and meeting space in 2013) and Philadelphia (expanded its Pennsylvania Convention Center in 2011 of over 700,000 square feet (65,000 m2) of meeting and convention space).
Visit Baltimore proposes an expansion of the convention center, reasoning that it would allow the city to accommodate multiple large meetings or conventions at a time. Additionally, the Greater Baltimore Committee estimates that with the proposed arena-hotel-convention center, Baltimore could accommodate as many as 300 new convention groups that cannot utilize Baltimore currently due to the size of the convention center.
In fall 2010, the Greater Baltimore Committee, a local influential business group, proposed an estimated $900 million project that would demolish the 1979 wing of the Baltimore Convention Center east of Sharp Street, plus the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel on the same block, and replace the buildings with a four-story, 760,000 square feet (71,000 m2) convention center expansion, an 18,500 seat arena that will replace Baltimore's existing 1st Mariner Arena over two levels of underground parking, a new 500-room Sheraton hotel and stores and restaurants facing Pratt, Charles and Conway Streets. At the time, the $900 million price tag was the only obstacle with the proposal.
However, on May 25, 2011, at the annual meeting for the Greater Baltimore Committee, the owner of the Sheraton Inner Harbor hotel, local business and construction magnate, Williard Hackerman, made an offer that he would be willing to finance more than half of the proposed $900 million price tag and would be willing to build the hotel and the arena which is estimated to cost $500 million and the remainder, $400 million for the convention center expansion would need to be financed by the State of Maryland and Baltimore City, the offer is contingent on whether the city and state can move the convention center expansion project forward. The offer received a positive reception from both Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley who both have submitted requests to the Maryland Stadium Authority to conduct a feasibility study on the project that is due by the end of 2011.
Visit Baltimore, the architects involved and others have said that this project is unique in that no other cities in the nation would have a combination arena-hotel-convention center the size of the proposed project in Baltimore.
On June 2, 2011, the Baltimore Sun reported that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Governor Martin O'Malley wants the Maryland Stadium Authority to pay for the estimated $150,000 feasibility study that will determine the "estimate of taxes that the project would generate" and if the study finds the project to be viable, O'Malley and Rawlings-Blake wants "an analysis of potential financing options and a strategy for moving the work forward." On June 14, 2011, the MSA unanimously approved the feasibility request with a 7-0 vote; however, the MSA wants the city of Baltimore to pay for part of the $150,000 cost for the feasibility study.
On July 18, 2011, the Baltimore Sun reported that the Baltimore Convention & Tourism Board approved to take $50,000 out of Visit Baltimore's budget to pay for the $150,000 feasibility study that the Maryland Stadium Authority approved on June 14, 2011.
As of October 10, 2011, the Maryland Stadium Authority has posted on its website the feasibility study that was approved on June 14, 2011, for the project that is expected to include "a market and economic study of the convention center expansion and incremental tax benefits for all three venues, and a funding strategy." According to the page that has the study listed, "The study is expected to be complete by winter [2011-2012]." 
On March 5, 2012, the feasibility report was published and made public jointly by the Maryland Stadium Authority and Baltimore City which strongly makes the recommendation for expanding the Baltimore Convention Center and replacing 1st Mariner Arena, reiterating that Baltimore's tourism industry will be harmed in the long run if no action is taken. Also, on April 11, 2012, the Baltimore Business Journal has published an article stating that the Maryland General Assembly in the recently ended 2012 legislative session approved $2.5 million for the convention center project allocated for "initial design [of the] $400 million expansion of the convention center (slated to be funded using public money from the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore), as well as a $500 million, 18,500-seat arena and hotel project (slated to be funded using private funding from a group lead by local business magnate Willard Hackerman)" however the Maryland General Assembly's budget committees added a prerequisite before they will approve the release of the $2.5 million, the prerequisite being that the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore and the private financiers of the project must submit a memorandum of understanding to the Maryland General Assembly's budget committees with a detailed explanation of how this project would be funded, how much of the $400 million would be shared between the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore and exactly who would operate the new arena. The proponent of this project and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, Donald Fry, stated in an interview with the Baltimore Business Journal that the approval of initial design funds by the Maryland General Assembly gives the green light to both the Greater Baltimore Committee and Willard Hackerman to enter into serious negotiations with private investors regarding "naming rights or concession agreements for the arena" and he feels that this is a good sign that the Maryland General Assembly will, in fact, provide even more state funding towards this project in the future.
In October 22, 2012, Tom Noonan, President and CEO of Visit Baltimore, voiced his support of this proposal. A series of studies will need to be conducted by the Maryland Stadium Authority to activate the $2.5 million and determine the feasibility and costs of the project. Construction, however, is not expected to begin until at least 2016.
In the Summer of 2013, the Greater Baltimore Committee proposal to build an expanded Baltimore Convention Center and a new arena came up in the Baltimore media due to the announcement that the largest event for Baltimore City, Otakon, would be departing Baltimore in 2017 to Washington D.C. due to the convention quickly running out of room at the Baltimore Convention Center. According to The Baltimore Sun on August 11, 2013, the proposal "was not close to becoming a reality" and that according to GBC's spokesman Gene Bracken, financing for the proposal "hasn't been worked out at all." On August 16, 2013, The Baltimore Sun reported that little progress has been made on the Greater Baltimore Committee's proposal, reporting that since April 2012, city and state officials have been negotiating with Willard Hackerman regarding exactly how to pay for the total $900 million projected amount for the proposal and that if the city, state and Mr. Hackerman can come up with a funding plan, the state will release $2.5 million "to pay for an expanded study of the project." The Baltimore Sun in the same article reported that the uncertainty surrounding the proposal to expand the Baltimore Convention Center "played a part in Otakon's departure" where Visit Baltimore "warned" a bid evaluating team for future Otakons "that construction could affect those events" however Visit Baltimore's CEO, Tom Noonan told The Baltimore Sun that "there's no set plan and that we're not near that point" in regards to potential construction and that a future study "will be to figure out how" the Baltimore Convention Center will "operate during construction." On August 12, 2013 WBAL reported that Donald Fry of the Greater Baltimore Committee told WBAL that he hoped that the GBC would be able to "present the mayor with some sort of financial concept within the next 30 to 60 days."
The Baltimore Convention Center is located within a superblock bounded by Charles Street, Pratt Street, Conway Street, and Howard Streets. The east and west halves of the Baltimore Convention Center are linked by an enclosed skywalk bridge over Sharp Street. The total land area of the Baltimore Convention Center is 608,968 square feet (56,575.0 m2), or 13.980 acres (56,580 m2) and the total enclosed area is 400,000 square feet (37,000 m2). The structural engineers for the expansion of this project was Leslie E. Robertson Associates.
The west end of the facility—corner of Pratt and Howard Street—is served by the Convention Center/Pratt Street Station of the Maryland Transit Administration's light rail system, providing direct links to both BWI Airport and Baltimore Penn Station (MARC Penn Line and Amtrak Northeast Corridor trains). A major Maryland Transit Administration bus stop is located at the intersection of Pratt & Sharp Streets in front of the Baltimore Convention Center, near the western—half of the Baltimore Convention Center (Pratt Street Entrance). The Camden Yards Light Rail Stop and Camden Line (MARC) station are also within walking distance of the facility.
- "Official Otakon Website". Otakorp, Inc. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- "Otakon - History: Stats". Otakorp, Inc. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
- "Otakon to Move to Washington D.C. in 2017". Anime News Network. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- "Otakon to leave Baltimore, prompting expansion talk - Tourism officials examine options". WBAL. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
- "Visitor arrivals to Baltimore jump more than 12 percent". Baltimore News.Net. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
- "Baltimore City Conference Center Expansion/Arena/Hotel". Retrieved October 10, 2011.
- "City and MSA Release Feasibility Study for Proposed Expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center". Retrieved April 24, 2012.
- Lambert, Jack (April 11, 2012). "Baltimore Convention Center design money gets OK in legislature". Retrieved April 24, 2012.
- Kilar, Steve; Korman, Chris (October 22, 2012). "1st Mariner Arena turns 50 amid calls for its replacement. Financing still being sought for replacement arena project". Retrieved October 23, 2012.
- Sullivan (August 14, 2013). "Otakon loss: 'We have three years to fill it,' Noonan says". Retrieved January 20, 2014.
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- Wells (August 11, 2013). "Otakon to move to D.C., citing aging convention center - Plans to expand the Baltimore Convention Center being studied". Retrieved January 20, 2014.
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- Korman (August 16, 2013). "Baltimore tourism business steady, but Otakon's exit points to future challenges - Proposed new arena and expanded convention center for Baltimore still lacks funding structure". Retrieved January 20, 2014.
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- "Otakon to leave Baltimore, prompting expansion talk - Tourism officials examine options". August 12, 2013. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
- Abell Foundation (June 2005). Baltimore's Center of Controversy. Report.
- Good Jobs First (September 2002). Subsidizing the Low Road: Economic Development in Baltimore[dead link]. Report.
- Greater Baltimore Committee (June 21, 2005). GBC voices support for city-owned convention hotel proposal[dead link]. News Release.
- Buckelew, Karen. "Baltimore's Next Renaissance: Convention Center hotel." Baltimore Business Journal. 2 May 2003, 
- Arney, June. "Can hotel revive Convention Center?" The Baltimore Sun. 11 August 2004, 
- Mirabella, Lorraine. "Convention bookings down while plans for hotel heat up." The Baltimore Sun. 24 December 2004,  (story describes concerns about Washington's Convention Center as well as the National Harbor project)