Baltimore Convention Center funds eliminated

A legislative panel deleted planning and design funds Saturday for the proposed expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center that would be linked to a new hotel and arena.

A conference committee of lawmakers from the House of Delegates and state Senate made the change as part of a fiscal 2013 capital budget agreement between the two houses. The capital budget is now settled but cannot pass the General Assembly until the operating budget is finalized.

Sen. James E. DeGrange, Sr., D-Anne Arundel, and Del. Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County, came to the agreement during a quiet, two-minute conversation in a hallway of the State House as the rest of the committee sat waiting.

When the two re-entered the meeting, Jones and DeGrange informed the committee that the $2.5 million allocated to the Maryland Stadium Authority for project planning was being eliminated, in accordance with the recommendation of state fiscal analysts.

DeGrange said there was already about $26 million in state money being allocated to miscellaneous projects in Baltimore, so the loss of $2.5 million shouldn’t be too much to bear.

“The city can front this,” DeGrange said. “The convention center has been an issue. They’ve got to get their … plan together. Not that we have an issue with the project, but there’s got to be more of a commitment up front coming from the city.

“We’ve got other priorities.”

Jones said the Senate’s position convinced her to agree to the cut. The planning could be funded through private sources or by the city, she said.

The House and Senate had previously approved the funding.

The House Appropriations Committee’s capital budget subcommittee approved the grant, which was proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

The Senate retained the money but added restrictive language that forced Baltimore City, the state Department of Budget and Management and the private developer to enter into a memorandum of understanding regarding the management and ownership structure of the redevelopment project.

The Department of Legislative Services recommended last month that the money be deleted from the capital budget, calling it “premature” to fund preliminary planning and design without a firm financial commitment from the state and city.

The convention center expansion is expected to cost $400 million and is part of a larger, $900 million project that includes the construction of a downtown arena and hotel. The remaining $500 million would be raised from private sources.

A stadium authority study released last month said the project could increase direct spending by $138.7 million to $181.6 million annually, potentially supporting 2,360 to 3,100 new jobs.

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