Baltimore Convention Center
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|Baltimore Convention Center|
Baltimore Convention Center, 2004
|Address||1 West Pratt Street|
|Owner||The City of Baltimore|
|Renovated||1996 (1979 wing)|
|• 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|
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a new 500 room hotel and an 18,500 seat arena; this project is estimated to cost $900 million, this proposal is no longer active and considered dead. As of March 2016, the State of Maryland is going to explore expanding the Baltimore Convention Center for an estimated cost of $600 million and build a new hotel attached to the expansion. As of August 2016, the proposal of having a combined expanded convention center, arena and hotel has been revived. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake requested a $1 million feasibility study from the Maryland Stadium Authority which was approved on August 2, 2016.
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 was Otakon, a convention that focuses on anime and other facets of East Asian culture. The convention had resided in the Baltimore Convention Center between 1999 to 2016. 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. In 2016, Otakon's final year in Baltimore, 29,113 people attended, a decline from its peak attendance of 34,211 in 2013.
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 theaters 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.
In early 2017, a Baltimore Sun article revealed that Otakon wasn't the only large convention that Baltimore City lost due to the current size of the Baltimore Convention Center. The article reports that as of the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2016, Visit Baltimore hosted 415 total event with a combined estimated economic impact of $180 million, the city usually hosts 20 to 30 large conventions annually however city officials are now stating the convention center is too small to be competitive with other cities. The article also reports that at least 10 large conventions have left Baltimore due to outgrowing the convention center and these conventions were held at the convention center during the previous 10 years and the total of 10 large conventions includes Otakon which as of 2017 will be held at the much larger Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C. The article also reports that future conventions are at risk of leaving Baltimore as well.
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.
First proposed arena-hotel-convention center project (2010-2016)
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 wanted 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 found the project to be viable, O'Malley and Rawlings-Blake wanted "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 wanted 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 had posted on its website the feasibility study that was approved on June 14, 2011. The project 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 MSA page, "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 published an article stating that the Maryland General Assembly in 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 led 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 required that the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore and the private financiers of the project 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 would 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."
On February 10, 2014, the Greater Baltimore Committee proposal to build an expanded convention Center and new arena hit a major roadblock: the owner of the Sheraton Inner Harbor and the person who was spearheading the efforts to raise private funds for the project, Willard Hackerman died. The Baltimore Business Journal reported in February 11, 2014 that the death of Willard Hackerman the day prior has thrown the future of the proposal into question. Kaliope Parthemos, Baltimore City's then-Deputy Mayor of Economic and Neighborhood Development told the Baltimore Business Journal that the City of Baltimore was in active discussions with Mr. Hackerman about the proposal up until December 2013 and stated that Mr. Hackerman was actively involved and wanted this proposal to move forward however he was "frustrated" that he could not have privately funded the entire cost by himself. Ms. Parthemos revealed that financing the estimated $900 million project "remained a significant hurdle up until Hackerman's death." Ms. Parthemos also stated that she was uncertain whether Mr. Hackerman made any plans to have the project continue after his death in case if he died.
As of November 27, 2015, no new news has been released regarding the uncertain future of the Greater Baltimore Committee proposal. It's currently unknown if the proposal will have political support after Martin O'Malley stepped down as Governor of Maryland due to term limits and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced she would not be seeking reelection as Baltimore Mayor.
As of March 8, 2016, this proposal is dead and not expected to be revived because the Rawlings-Blake administration is looking into renovating Royal Farms Arena instead of building a new arena. The State of Maryland has begun exploring the possibility of a $600 million expansion (see below).
Proposed $600 million Baltimore Convention Center Expansion and New Hotel
On March 8, 2016 it was revealed by the Baltimore Business Journal that the State of Maryland is exploring constructing a $600 million expansion to the Baltimore Convention Center that would double the existing floor space of the convention center and build a new hotel as well.
State officials are going to request in Spring 2016 from Governor Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly $3 million in seed money to launch a study for expanding the convention center. This study will allow engineers and architects to figure out where to place the expansion.
Maryland's Commerce Secretary, Mike Gill said that the CEO of Visit Baltimore recently met with the Maryland Department of Commerce to request seed money to study the expansion of the convention center.
One possible location is demolishing the existing Sheraton Inner Harbor hotel and locating the expansion there and building the new hotel at the southwest corner of Pratt and Charles.
All of this is part of an ongoing discussion about expanding the Baltimore Convention Center which has been a focus of the current 2016 legislative session within the Maryland General Assembly.
This new proposal by the State of Maryland and the focus of expanding the Baltimore Convention Center within the Maryland General Assembly comes about in the final year  that Baltimore's largest convention, Otakon, will be held in Baltimore. In 2017, Otakon will no longer be held in Baltimore and is relocating to Washington D.C. at the larger Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
As of 12:00 AM EDT, April 12, 2016, the official end of the 2016 Maryland legislative session within the Maryland General Assembly, no bill was introduced in either the state Senate or House of Delegates that requested the $3 million in seed money to launch a study for expanding the Baltimore Convention Center. It's currently unknown why no bill was introduced in the 2016 legislative session when it was reported in March 2016 that there would be a request for $3 million, it's unknown if the request will be made within the 2017 Maryland legislative session that will begin on Wednesday, January 11, 2017 at 12:00 PM EST.
On Thursday, April 14, 2016, the Baltimore Business Journal reported that the $3 million for a study to expand the Baltimore Convention Center was supposed to be part of one of three supplemental budgets that the Maryland Governor has but according to Karen Glen Hood, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Commerce told the Baltimore Business Journal that a formal request for $3 million was never submitted to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and did not explain why the request was not made, instead deferring the question of why to local officials closer to the Baltimore Convention Center.
Visit Baltimore CEO Tom Noonan, a longtime advocate for expanding the Baltimore Convention Center stated he was "disappointed" that the funding wasn't in place at the end of the 2016 Maryland legislative session, the executive director of the convention center, Peggy Daidakis could not have been reached for comment.
Maryland's Secretary of Commerce, Mike Gill, told the Baltimore Business Journal that the interested parties in having the Baltimore Convention Center expanded are having "ongoing conversations" into what the next steps for a study would be but stated he couldn't state specifics.
Visit Baltimore's CEO Noonan revealed that at least 30% of interested citywide conventions, conventions defined as requiring at least 1,200 hotel rooms at its peak night, skip over Baltimore for other cities due to the convention center being either too small or is already booked on the dates the interested conventions want reserved in Baltimore.
The Baltimore Business Journal reports that when the Baltimore Convention Center opened in 1979, it was "one of the premier convention spaces in the country" but the stature of the convention center has fallen over time with upgrades to other convention centers in cities such as Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Atlanta.
Now, as of April 14, 2016, the interested parties for an expanded convention center will either have to wait until 2017's legislative session or search for alternative funding.
As of August 2, 2016, the proposed project of constructing an expanded convention center attached to a new arena and hotel has been revived and a $1 million feasibility study has in fact been approved (see below).
Second proposed arena-hotel-convention center project (2016)
On August 2, 2016, it's been revealed that the proposed project of constructing a combined expanded convention center attached to an arena and hotel has been revived and that a $1 million feasibility study for a combined arena, hotel and expanded convention center was requested by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake from the Maryland Stadium Authority and that the Maryland Stadium Authority has approved the study. Funding is coming from the Maryland Stadium Authority ($126,667), the State of Maryland (an additional $500,000 is available immediately to fund this study), the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore ($30,000), the Greater Baltimore Committee ($30,000), and the City of Baltimore ($313,333). The study will take approximately a year to complete and is expected to be completed and released in Fall 2017. The study will look at having either just a convention center expansion and having a combined expanded convention center attached to a new arena and hotel, the study will look at the environmental, community and traffic impacts of the two proposals and what types of events the new facility will be able to attract, this study will also determine exactly how large the expanded convention center is supposed to be. The new complex will be bounded by Pratt, Charles and Conway Streets. This study will not include construction and budget plans as this is just phase 1, if the state and city elects to move forward after reviewing the results of this study, that second study will put together just partial plans to obtain a cost estimate.
In November 2016, the Maryland Stadium Authority's feasibility study that was approved in August 2016 got full funding after the Baltimore City Board of Estimates approved to commit to $313,000 of funding towards the $1 million feasibility study. This comes approximately a week after the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency's board approved to commit to $250,000 of funding towards the $1 million feasibility study (the remainder of the study costs are being funded through the state and two private groups: $126,667 from the Maryland Stadium Authority, $500,000 from the Maryland Department of Commerce with a total of $626,667 coming from the State of Maryland and $30,000 each from local groups the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Committee). Jeff Pilas, the CFO of the Baltimore Development Corp. told the Baltimore Business Journal that if the study recommends an expansion to the Baltimore Convention Center, a second phase for the study would commence involving design. The study was requested by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and is expected to begin sometime in early 2017 and final completion is expected to be sometime later in 2017.
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.
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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, Chris (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.
- "Otakon to leave Baltimore, prompting expansion talk - Tourism officials examine options". August 12, 2013. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
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- Buckelew, Karen. "Baltimore's Next Renaissance: Convention Center hotel." Baltimore Business Journal. 2 May 2003, 
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- 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)