by Brendan M. Lynch | January 01, 2005

Rendering of proposed Baltimore Hilton

Baltimore taxpayers
might fund this
$290 million Hilton.

In late November 2004, the Baltimore Development Corp. announced a $290 million plan to build a 100 percent publicly funded 750-room Hilton next to the underperforming Baltimore Convention Center. Some critics were quick to argue against its feasibility. n n

    “We’ve found that we’re at a competitive disadvantage in trying to attract conventions to our center, because we lack a headquarters hotel,” said Irene Van Sant, project director for the BDC.
     The city lost an estimated 122,000 room nights due to the lack of a headquarters property, according to Debra Dignan, associate vice president of convention sales for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.
    However, critics noted, in cities such as St. Louis; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Overland Park, Kan., and Sacramento, Calif., publicly funded headquarters hotels have failed to attract significant numbers of new conventions or earn enough to cover their debt payments.
    “These investments are shaped by a desire to sustain investment and activity levels, not by actual demand for convention center space or headquarters hotel rooms,” said Heywood Sanders, professor with the Department  of Public Administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
    Thomas Hazinski, managing director of Chicago-based HVS International Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities, summed up by noting, “The presence of a headquarters hotel is thought to improve the center’s performance, but it’s not a panacea.”