State officials have picked a team of top designers to study the possibility of expanding the Baltimore Convention Center and replacing Royal Farms Arena downtown, and have broadened the scope of a separate study regarding the future of State Center.
The Maryland Stadium Authority voted yesterday to hire a group headed by Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore to recommend the best way to expand and renovate the aging Baltimore Convention Center to help it remain competitive with facilities in other cities. The study will also look at whether a new arena and a high-rise hotel should be constructed as an addition to the convention center and, if so, where they should go.
Yesterday’s selection means the study’s $460,000 first phase, which is fully funded, will begin right away and is expected to be complete by the end of the year. Depending on what the recommendations are and the availability of additional funds, it will be followed by a $930,000 second phase that could lead to the next major development for downtown Baltimore.
The stadium authority also voted to increase the scope of a previously authorized study on State Center, with Crossroads of Tampa as the lead consultant. Besides looking at the feasibility of building an arena in State Center, the consultant is now being asked to explore other development options and opportunities for the area, where Gov. Larry Hogan cancelled a $1.5 billion mixed-use development last December.
For the convention center study, the Ayers Saint Gross team was selected over six other groups that expressed interest in the commission, including many of the top convention center designers in the nation.
Besides the Baltimore firm, the winning team includes Populous of Kansas City (formerly HOK Sport Facilities Group), the firm that designed Oriole Park and M&T Bank Stadium; LMN of Seattle, the lead designer of the 1990s addition to the Baltimore Convention Center; Perkins Eastman, a New York-based firm with extensive experience designing complex urban projects; and Cho Benn Holback, a firm with expertise in adaptive reuse projects. Glenn Birx is leading the team for Ayers Saint Gross.
Gary McGuigan, senior vice president of the stadium authority, said the Ayers Saint Gross team ranked second in terms of technical expertise and best in terms of price.
Of the seven bidding groups, he said, four were invited for interviews. The others were groups headed by HOK, HKS and Thompson Ventulett Stainback & Associates, all experienced convention center designers.
The convention center study will look at several concepts: renovating and expanding the existing building without adding an arena, renovating the convention center and adding an arena, renovating the convention center and adding a new hotel and adding both an arena and a hotel.
The idea of adding an arena to the convention center was first proposed in 2012 and was touted at the time as a potential “game changer” for the city. The idea has been largely dormant since the 2014 death of contractor Willard Hackerman, who owned the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, which would have been replaced as part of the project. Ayers Saint Gross was the architect for the 2012 proposal.
Last year, officials from the mayor’s office and Visit Baltimore, the city’s tourism bureau, said they want to take another look at ways to expand and improve the convention center, including the idea of incorporating an arena as part of a hybrid project.
The stadium authority subsequently approved a plan to spend $1 million for the first phase of a “program design and engineering study” that could eventually cost $2.5 million. For the first $1 million, $60,000 will come from the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. The remaining $940,000 is coming from the state and the city, with the state paying two-thirds, or $626,667, and the city paying one-third, or $313,333. With the design team now selected, the study can finally begin.
For the State Center study, the stadium authority previously asked on-call consultant Crossroads to complete a $10,000 site analysis to determine if an arena can fit on the 28-acre parcel next to Bolton Hill and Madison Park.
Yesterday, the stadium authority authorized an expansion of Crossroads’ work to include looking at other development options for the area. McGuigan said Crossroads will be asked to look at other renewal districts around the country and carry out other research to see “what development opportunities are out there.”
The expanded study is expected to cost about $70,000 and be complete in about three months. The additional work has Hogan’s support, and funds are coming from the state Department of General Services, McGuigan said.
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