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Convention Center/Arena Back on the Table in Baltimore

Royal Farms Arena Interior 2

History is repeating itself in Baltimore, where discussions about a convention center/arena project are back on the table.

Baltimore has spent years trying to find a replacement for Royal Farms Arena (shown above), the obsolete but still functional venue hosts most of the city’s major indoor performances. Multiple concepts have been discussed over the past decade, including the development of a new arena in the Inner Harbor and a convention center/arena hybrid downtown.

The convention center project talk has resumed. Under this plan, Baltimore would essentially address two projects in one by overhauling the existing convention space and adding a new arena plus a hotel to replace the existing Sheraton. In 2012 this concept was studied, only to stall due to a variety of factors, including the death of Whiting-Turner CEO Willard Hackerman, a prominent proponent who owned the Sheraton and was to assist in the project’s funding.

A new study is being undertaken, at the behest of Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, with the Maryland Stadium Authority leading the way. The report will look at the convention center/arena hybrid and the sole development of new convention space, but the findings will take time. More from the Baltimore Business Journal:

The Stadium Authority approved $126,667 in funding for the study and Karen Glenn Hood, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Commerce, said an additional $500,000 in state funding is available now to be contributed to the study. Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Committee each contributed $30,000 and the remaining $313,333 will come from the City of Baltimore.

The study is expected to take about a year and be completed in fall 2017.

“The convention center is already fallen behind as it relates to its peers in terms of size and it is already losing business,” said Michael Frenz, the Maryland Stadium Authority executive director.

Construction and budget plans would not be part of the new first phase study. If the state and city elect to continue after the first study, the second phase would put together partial plans to get a cost estimate.

“This is just a preliminary look,” said Gary McGuigan, senior vice president of the stadium authority. “If we continue, there would be additional fees.”

One thing that stands out in this scenario is the timing. Rawlings-Blake did not seek reelection this spring and is likely to be replaced by Catherine Pugh, the winner of April’s Democratic primary. Whether a new mayor and other city officials will want to follow through on the study’s findings remains to be seen.

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