- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — A plan for a publicly financed convention center hotel was narrowly approved in its first vote by the City Council.

The hotel would cost $35 million and would be Baltimore’s most expensive public project. It was approved 8-7 by the council’s Committee of the Whole on Monday.

The bill now moves to the council floor, where a vote is expected Aug. 15. If approved then, it would take one more round of voting for the bill to ultimately succeed.

Council member Helen L. Holton, who voted for the plan on Monday, said her “yes” vote was only a procedural move to free the package from committee, and that she remains skeptical.

City Council President Sheila Dixon pledged her support for the hotel for the first time.

“This is a major risk for the city,” she said. “But I feel confident that public financing is the way to go.”

Miss Dixon was less confident about whether a majority of her colleagues would join her in that support by Aug. 15.

“Who knows?” she said. “The problem is there is no consistency with them. … They have five other reasons [to say no] once their other 20 questions are cleared up.”

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley’s administration, backed by city economic development and tourism officials, has said the hotel is the salvation for the underperforming convention center. Without the 752-room Hilton and its ability to offer room-block agreements, they say, Baltimore will never be able to compete in the meetings industry.

Under the plan, Baltimore would issue revenue bonds to finance the hotel. If the hotel fails, the city would use tax income from the hotel and possibly the occupancy tax from all Baltimore hotels to pay off the debt.

Though Baltimore Development Corp. officials say the hotel would pay for itself, skeptics say the risk is too great and question whether the hotel would bring more conventions to town.

“I hope I’m wrong, but it’s gonna end up in a fire-sale type of thing,” council member Nicholas C. D’Adamo Jr. said about the hotel as he cast a “no” vote.

But council member Robert W. Curran predicted success.

“The return on the city’s money will be historic,” Mr. Curran said. “I do believe that.”

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