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Baltimore convention center project could cost $930M

The Baltimore Convention Center and arena redevelopment could cost as much as $930 million and take seven years to build, according to estimates released Thursday by the Greater Baltimore Committee.

The GBC plan includes a new sports arena, a 500-room hotel and an expanded convention center wing between Pratt, Charles, Conway and Sharp streets, one block from the Inner Harbor.

“We think the design that we have is very solid and fits into the urban fabric of the city, and would provide some vitality and vibrancy to a building that right now is kind of drab and quiet,” said Donald C. Fry, GBC president and CEO.

Preliminary cost estimates range between $750 million and $930 million. Fry said the GBC will explore financing options that include public and private sources as it continues to promote its proposal to key groups and decision makers.

“I think it’s certainly going to have to be a public-private partnership,” Fry said. “What sort of shape it takes, how it gets divided up is still in question at this stage.”

Fry said there are many opportunities to woo private dollars, with arena naming rights and the relocation of the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel among the most obvious. The GBC, which calls for the Sheraton’s demolition and construction of a new hotel on Conway, will have to work out a deal with hotel owner Willard Hackerman, president of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., for the project to go forward.

Hackerman could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Fry has said the hotel owner is open to discussing the project.

Fry also floated the possibility of the 18,500-seat arena being privately owned, as is the case in Washington. There, Ted Leonsis owns the Verizon Center and its tenants, including the Capitals and Wizards.

“We’re not looking necessarily for those types of franchises, but there could be private ownership of [the arena],” Fry said.

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said her office is still reviewing the GBC’s proposal, which Fry presented Thursday morning to the board of the Baltimore Development Corp.

M.J. “Jay” Brodie, president of the BDC, the city’s quasi-public development arm, called the idea “an intriguing proposal.”

“It’s a fascinating idea. It’s going to require lots of studies,” Brodie said. “The first part is architectural – can it literally fit? The drawings indicate it could and would be a very attractive set of buildings.”

The exterior of the development would be dominated by a glass façade 10 stories tall along Pratt, Charles and Conway, allowing passersby to see the activity inside, and conference attendees to look out on to the city.

“It puts the arena at a corner that is right now one of the more uninteresting, dead corners of Baltimore, just one block from the Inner Harbor,” said Adam Gross, principal of Ayers Saint Gross, the project’s architect.

There will be space for street-level restaurants and retail as well, Fry said.

But the core of the project will be the convention space, arena and hotel, built in phases over the better part of the decade.

Building the new hotel would take 18 months, followed by up to 2 1/2 years to tear down the Sheraton and build the arena, according to Fry. The demolition of the east wing of the convention center and construction of its replacement would stretch over the final three years.

The new, four-story convention wing would bring the facility to 760,000 square feet, about twice its current size.

“If you look around the country, you see that these types of facilities are being built regularly in other cities, larger than we have and more modern than we have,” Fry said.

3 comments

  1. This arena should not be built.. There’s better things this money can be spent on, such as schools, roads, etc…

  2. This is one of the worst ideas for the money I have heard in a long time. Unless we are going to make real efforts to get a pro-sports team this seems silly. The current arena just became profitable a few years ago and is ranked #1 by Billboard for attracting music acts. Why not just update it and continue profits? It ties in with the lagging super block development. Another study shows that investing in parks is better for a city than arena and sports complexes. This is yet again another attempt to go after the elusive convention dollars always are less than projected. Didn’t we just spend 600 Million for an under performing hotel?

  3. Please Please Please do waste tax payer dollars. The city need to put stop wasting money on useless space. This project and state center.