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Finally some good news...
Arena Moves Forward with Convention Center Study Results
A positive step was taken forward today in the pursuit of a new arena in Baltimore. A Maryland Stadium Authority Study released this afternoon showed the need for more convention center space in Baltimore. What does the convention center have to do with a new arena? Developer Willard Hackerman is willing to finance the new arena and attached hotel if the state agrees to publicly fund a convention center expansion, also attached to the new arena. The study also found that the First Mariner Arena is functionally obsolete and no longer able to accommodate many popular events.
We’ve delved heavily into the present and future of downtown and the Inner Harbor in recent articles and this project is certainly a huge domino chip for both areas. I described the portion of Charles Street cutting through downtown as “the place where vibrancy dies.” The arena/convention center/hotel would occupy the block of Charles St. between Conway St. and Pratt St. in the Inner Harbor, leading into Center City. Obviously this would be huge for the Inner Harbor and downtown.
“It has the potential for a Millennium Park [Chicago]-type feel,” Mike Evitts of Downtown Partnership told me in regards to the future of the First Mariner Arena site. Downtown Partnership is hoping to turn at least part if not all of the site of First Mariner Arena into a park, opening up into an improved Hopkins Plaza. The sooner a new arena gets built the sooner that could potentially become a reality. Having been to Chicago this summer, Millennium Park is spectacular.
While an expanded convention center is probably not very exciting for South Baltimore residents as it appears there is already enough space for the Boat Show, O’s Fanfest and Otakon, the new convention center could really help the surrounding areas. The state-of-the-art complex would help lure some of the best national and international conventions, providing a big boost for local hotels and businesses.
What’s next for the arena? Now the state will spend $2.5 million to fund the design of the entire project, already slotted in this year’s fiscal budget. The city and state must also work hard to find funding for the the convention center expansion which will cost an estimated $450 million.
Here is the statement issued by Mayor Rawlings Blake: “I greatly appreciate the thoughtful analysis the Maryland Stadium Authority provided with this study…This project is ambitious, and the details of how to secure the public and private financing are complex. Building a new, world-class convention center in the heart of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor will strengthen our tourism industry and spark new growth throughout the city.”
So what does this mean for South Baltimore residents? Personally I feel it is an absolute sin that a city like Baltimore has an arena as below par as First Mariner. Sure First Mariner gets events and lots of them, but not important ones. No Maryland basketball or college basketball games, no NBA games, no NHL games, no NCAA tournament basketball, no Arena League Football and no major concerts. The Dew Tour left Baltimore because they wanted to use an arena for some events and we couldn’t provide that.
We deserve to have great events and they will never come to Baltimore until a new arena is built. If the state can work hard enough to lure major conventions than it’s a no-brainer. This is money spent that brings money back in, unlike many things the state spends fortunes on. Let’s get it built before Hackerman changes his mind, which would cost us arena funding and potentially the site which is currently the Sheraton Inner Harbor.
The arena will be an easy walk right up Charles St. for most South Baltimore residents, easier than Camden Yards for most. The amount of new entertainment options that could enter your walkable agenda could be endless. Hey, maybe we’ll even get an NHL, NBA or Arena Football team. This city needs a new arena and while these studies are often looked at as a joke by many, at least a new arena is one step closer to a reality.
Baltimore City Press Release
Study: New arena, larger convention center would transform city
Md. Stadium Authority says larger center would draw national and international convention business
By Lorraine Mirabella, The Baltimore Sun
9:35 PM EST, March 5, 2012
A $900 million proposal to build a downtown sports and entertainment arena linked to an expanded Baltimore Convention Center would appeal to national and international convention planners seeking a "destination package" and could transform the city, according to a Maryland Stadium Authority study released Monday.
Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake requested the study, which analyzed a proposal to build an 18,500-seat arena and a 500-room Sheraton Hotel, both privately financed, next to a publicly funded convention center expansion at Charles, Pratt, Sharp and Conway streets.
The new arena would replace the aging 1st Mariner Arena on downtown's west side, a priority of the Rawlings-Blake administration.
"The report … certainly demonstrates that Baltimore needs to continue to enhance its tourism and convention product if we're going to remain competitive," said Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, a private business group that proposed combining a new arena with a larger convention center. "Certainly we can't stand still if we want to still be a significant player in the convention-tourism destination business."
While the financing will be complex, Rawlings-Blake said in a statement, "building a new, world-class convention center in the heart of Baltimore's Inner Harbor will strengthen our tourism industry and spark new growth throughout the city."
A new arena would generate an estimated $48.1 million to $50.3 million in spending annually and support between 730 and 760 jobs, according to the report.
The expanded convention center would generate between $214.4 million and $284.6 million of spending in the state, the report projected. Most of that — between $186.7 million and $247.8 million —would be spent in the city.
The report conducted by Crossroads Consulting Services found significant demand for more space to hold bigger and simultaneous events. The Tampa, Fla.-based consulting firm also supported the proposed Inner Harbor location, which is close to attractions, accommodations and sports venues.
An expanded convention center would attract an additional four to eight large, citywide conventions or groups a year, the report said. Additional, smaller events also could be accommodated, said Tom Noonan, executive director of Visit Baltimore, the city's tourism and convention agency.
The stadium authority agreed last summer to study the proposal, first floated by the Greater Baltimore Committee in 2010 to help the city angle for more of the lucrative convention business. Cities such as Washington, Philadelphia and Nashville compete with Baltimore for conventions and have added or are adding meeting and hotel space.
The report confirmed the GBC's belief that such a project could address both the city's need for a new arena and to stay competitive as a destination, Fry said.
Construction magnate Willard Hackerman, president and chief executive of the Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., has offered to lead a team that would privately finance and build a $325 million arena and a $175 million hotel.
Hackerman's offer is contingent on the convention center expansion, which is expected to cost $400 million. The existing 320-room Sheraton, owned by Hackerman, would be demolished to make way for the redevelopment.
"The private sector's interest in developing a new hotel and arena has created a unique opportunity to combine two major public assembly projects in downtown Baltimore and potentially realize synergies from a land use, physical planning, operational, and economic perspective," the report said.
Hackerman is working to secure private-sector funding for the arena and hotel and has received some interest, Fry said Monday. The convention center expansion likely would be funded through state and city bond issues.
O'Malley has requested $2.5 million in the state capital budget for planning and design and to explore ways to finance the project.
"During these tough economic times, there are a lot of pressures on the state capital budget," Fry said. "The good news is that we're not seeking the large construction dollars at this time."
With luck, Fry said, the economy would improve by the time the project gets under way, likely not before 2016.
The report called the city's convention center, last expanded in 1996, a "valuable economic generator" that has held more than 430 events and accommodated 1.3 million attendees over the last three fiscal years.
Conventions and trade shows, which made up about a third of those events, averaged more than $307.1 million in direct spending, which annually supported 5,100 jobs and generated $41.5 million in local and state taxes, researchers said.
However, the city lost business to competitors because of inadequate space or unavailable dates, and would lose more in the future if the convention center is not expanded, the report said.
"We've got a long way to go in terms of financing and when we would build, but I'm glad we're looking at the future of tourism," Noonan said.
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Copyright © 2012, The Baltimore Sun
Full Press Release and Study from City of Baltimore:
City and MSA Release Feasibility Study for Proposed Expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center
BALTIMORE, MD (March 5, 2012)—Today, the City of Baltimore and the Maryland Stadium Authority released the study of a visionary plan for a new downtown arena complex between Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor. The concept, proposed by the Greater Baltimore Committee in May 2011, would incorporate the expansion of the existing Baltimore Convention Center and the redevelopment of the adjacent Sheraton Hotel.
The study, requested jointly by Governor Martin O’Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, evaluated the market and economic potential of the proposed project, portions of which would be publicly and privately financed. Replacement of the City-owned 1st Mariner Arena is a City priority. Locating it adjacent to an expanded Convention Center and new hotel overlooking the harbor is an opportunity to transform Baltimore.
“I greatly appreciate the thoughtful analysis the Maryland Stadium Authority provided with this study” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake. “This project is ambitious, and the details of how to secure the public and private financing are complex. Building a new, world-class convention center in the heart of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor will strengthen our tourism industry and spark new growth throughout the city.”
Market research indicates that there is a significant demand for additional space at the Convention Center to host more, larger, and simultaneous events. Baltimore’s proximity to population centers, association headquarters, and transportation routes were cited as market advantages. Also mentioned was Baltimore’s connection with medical, pharmaceutical, and biotech interests. The study also found that a downtown location, with its cluster of attractions, accommodations, and sports venues is beneficial. Packaging the Convention Center (the publicly financed portion of the project) as part of an entertainment and hospitality complex—as opposed to a stand-alone facility—enhances its appeal as a destination package for national and international convention planners. This would benefit the private businesses along the corridor with its synergy and landmark design.
The study also references the downside of not addressing the aging facilities. 1st Mariner Arena, while successfully operating since 1962, is functionally obsolete and no longer able to accommodate many popular touring events. The Convention Center, originally constructed in 1979 and expanded in 1996, has fallen behind newer and more versatile facilities and will lose its market share without substantial renovations.
The study concludes that the Greater Baltimore Committee proposal presents the City of Baltimore and State of Maryland with an unprecedented opportunity to leverage private sector resources with public dollars to achieve economic growth and quality of life amenities. The next steps for the City and State are to estimate construction and project costs after preliminary design, determine the available private sector financial investment, and develop a financing strategy.
“The Stadium Authority was happy to work with both the City and the State to provide them with the analysis they need to make an informed decision about this proposal.” noted Chairman John Morton, III. “We stand ready to assist with this proposal if asked.”
The complete study, performed by Crossroads Consulting Services, is posted on the Maryland Stadium Authority website at: http://www.mdstad.com/content/view/105/143/.