Fresh support voiced for new arena-convention center expansion

The proposed new privately-funded arena and hotel attached to an expanded Baltimore Convention Center near the Inner Harbor receive fresh support from the Greater Baltimore Committee and travel industry experts at the GBC’s October 10 Economic Outlook conference.

If a feasibility study of the project now being conducted by the Maryland Stadium Authority is favorable, the GBC will seek up to $3 million from the General Assembly in the 2012 session for preliminary planning of the convention-center expansion, said GBC president and CEO Donald C. Fry.

The convention center expansion, estimated to cost $400 million, is the portion of the combined public-private project that would be funded by the state and the city. Developer Willard Hackerman has pledged fund the proposed 18,500-seat arena and a new 500-room hotel on Conway Street through private investors.

Baltimore has lost more than 700,000 room nights in hotel convention-related bookings since 2005 due to the Baltimore Convention Center’s limited capacity, Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, told more than 400 GBC members and guests who attended the GBC Economic Outlook Conference.

Tourism is major economic engine in Baltimore, generating 21 million visitors to the city in 2010 who spent $4.4 billion and generated more than $575 million in tax revenue to the state and city. The tourism industry supports 74,000 jobs in the Baltimore region, said Noonan.

Nationally, the convention and meetings industry produces $263 billion in direct spending. The industry’s share of the national GDP exceeds that of the U.S. auto manufacturing industry, the information and data processing industry and performing arts, sports and museum sector, meeting business expert Roger Rickard said at the economic outlook conference.

A recent trend where organizers plan conventions and meetings requiring participants to travel shorter distances “bodes well for Baltimore,” said Rickard. “If you’re a four-hour drive from 42 million people, that actually makes you much more attractive,” said Rickard. “I don’t really see this trend changing any time soon.”

Tom Noonan’s presentation.
Roger Rickard’s presentation.

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