Task force studies convention center for city

October 29, 1997


Staff Writer

Hagerstown could be the site of a $9 million convention center that would accommodate up to 5,000 people and draw business from the mid-Atlantic region by the end of the year 2000, said the chairwoman of a task force appointed Tuesday to study the idea.

The Hagerstown City Council appointed the task force, which will review funding sources, locations, layout, marketing and a business plan.

The 18-member task force will report in April on the affordability of a convention center, said Chairwoman Kathleen Hynes, who discussed the idea with council members at a closed meeting last week.

The convention center could include a hotel, but Hynes said she had no cost estimate for that portion of the project.


Convention centers in Ocean City, Montgomery County and Prince George's County serve Maryland, but one here could serve the Interstate 81 corridor and mid-Atlantic region, Hynes said.

The proposed convention center could host gatherings that are too small for Baltimore's convention center, but too big for local existing facilities to handle, she said.

"Anything that we do is intended to complement what is already here," Hynes said. "We're not looking to take business away from (other hotels)."

The Ramada Inn's convention center can seat more than 2,000 people theater-style, said General Manager Jim Kell.

Hynes said the convention center could cost between $7 million and $9 million and could seat between 3,000 and 5,000 people. One room could provide theater-style seating for 3,000 people, she said.

It also could include a large-screen IMAX movie theater already planned in the area to show the "Gettysburg" trilogy, she said.

"I think it would certainly get us into a competitive posture with other cities in the state," said Ben Hart, executive director for the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau and a task force member.

A 3,000- to 5,000-seat convention center would, for instance, enable the American Legion to hold its annual state convention here rather than in Ocean City every year, said Linda Caudell, state president of the legion's auxiliary.

"For many years the American Legion and American Legion auxiliary have looked for other sites than Ocean City, but have never found anything to accommodate us," Caudell said. Several thousand people attend the organization's annual convention, she said.

Such a convention would boost the local economy since conventioneers spend money in hotels, restaurants and shops, Caudell said.

One major battle the convention center could face is whether it should be built downtown or outside the downtown area, said Hynes, who prefers downtown for the center-hotel.

"I believe a big economic draw would change the entire complexion of downtown, both for business and tourism," Hynes said.

"We're not doing anything else with it and it needs a shock treatment, I believe," she said.

While several city officials said they like the idea of having the center downtown, some expressed concern that sufficient space for the building and for parking might not be available.

"I don't think it should be downtown" unless parking is available, said Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II. Bruchey also said he didn't want taxpayer money to support the project.

But, Councilman William M. Breichner said he would like the center to be located downtown. Some buildings would have to be razed and the city would have to make more parking available, he said.

Other possible locations could be along Dual Highway or the interstate highways, Hynes said.

The Hagerstown Roundhouse originally was considered, but that is an unlikely site since owner CSX Corp. wants the property's next owners to take financial responsibility for any environmental hazards, officials said.

Hynes submitted a $3,566 budget for the task force to city officials on Tuesday. Costs include funding toward trips to check out other convention centers.

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