Peter F. O'Malley, A Prince George's lawyer and leader of the reigning county political organization, yesterday described the convention center-hotel complex proposal he has negotiated for Largo as a happy blend of government and private business that ulimately will help enrich both.
He acknowledged that two of his law clients, the developer of the complex, William Levitt Jr, and the Capital Centre arena, the project's nextdoor neighbor, would benefit from the project.
It is, he said, "an endeavor that is going to benefit the county and the price that's being paid is that this developer will made a profit."
In addition to the profit, developer Levitt would probably see a considerable increase in value for the other 1,200 acres his companies own in the vicinity of the proposed convention center.
The complex, he predicted, will become possibly the "largest single source of new taxes" in Prince George's County. As such he said, it will help hold down property taxes and compensate for the $1.5 million subsidy the county will contribute to Levitt's operation of the complex.
'OMalley outlined his views in part out of his concern that "piecemeal" reporting ont he proposal - which became public before county legislators were given details might have led to misunderstanding.
The proposal requires the state legislature to approve a $20 million bond issue to help finance construction of the convention hall. Developer Levitt, who holds the controlling interest in a corporation that owns the land for the center, would put up about $13 million for construction.
The county is, in effect, competing with the District of Columbia, which has proposed a more expensive convention center complex requiring greater infursion of government funds. County officials point out that fact in advocating their own proposal.
"I think its perfectly logical that D.C. hotel owners and D.C. businessmen want to put it down there (on Mount Vernon Square)," O'Malley said."I don't think it's unusual for this jurisdiction (Prince George's) to want the same things that outher jurisdictions want."
O'Malley described his own role in the Prince George's proposal as that of an "energizer and innovator." He said he saw no conflict between representing the developer at the same time he wields influence in county politics and government.
O'Malley said he would not personally lobby legislators for passage of the bond bill although he said he would testify about the proposal if asked.
O'Malley said that his concentrated work on a convention center proposal was already being discussed about six months ago with the county's recently created Council of Economic Progress, a club of businessmen in the county.
Consultants were "brought in" to do studies and O'Malley himself journeyed to Atlanta to examine that city's new convention center.
"All of this was done when it was thought the county and state were going to build" the center. "I did it with Levitt's approval," O'Malley said and part of his mission was to give Levitt a competitive edge when it came down to choosing a site.
The property controlled by Levitt's company near the Capital Centre, O'Malley said, "is probably the single most attractive piece of property" in the region in part because of its access to highways and mass transit.
The land (282 acres) is owned by a publicly held corporation in which Levitt has the controlling interest, O'Malley himself holds approximately 1,000 shares, which he said was a minuscule holding in the corporation's 300,000 - plus shares.
O'Malley said that during the study process, he learned of County Executive Winfield M. Kelly's view that the county would be unable to come up with funds for a convention center because of budget problems.
At this point, O'Malley said, "I went back to Bill" (Levitt) with the seed of the proposal now being considered: $20 million in state funds, the donation of Levitt's money for the center; the hotel and shopping complex that will surround it; and the $1.5 million annual operating subsidy to be offset in part by a doubling of the county's hotel-motel tax rate.
Convention centers generally are not expected to make any money. Levitt's profit will come from the hotel and shopping complex. The most lucrative potential for the developer, however, is in the increased value of other land he controls in the vicinity of the project, O'Malley said. "The companies (Levitt's) have perhaps 1,200 acres - a substantial amount of land in that area . . . The need for services created (by the new complex) will create an increased value for that property," O'Malley said.
As for O'Malley's other clients, the Capital Centre, "it would make all the sense in the world to me for the two to work" in tandem. "The 15,000 delegates to the soft drink bottle convention could use the convention center for exhibits and the Capital Centre for meetings," he said.