A proposal to prevent the new Washington Convention Center from being used for concerts and sporting events appears headed for a fight on Capitol Hill, with at least two congressmen and a growing group of D.C. city officials calling for its defeat.
D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, who is leading the battle, described the proposed restrictions as "the most flagrant attack to date on local self government."
In a "Dear Colleague" letter circulated yesterday, Fauntroy said language included in the D.C. budget bill now before Congress "in effect seeks to say to the local citizens that you can pay for the Washington Convention Center but you can't use it."
Fauntroy's concerns are shared by Rep. Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.), the ranking minority member of the House District of Columbia Committee, who is also working to eliminate the restrictions when they are considered by the full House early next week.
The restrictions, which would prevent the $98.7-million facility from competing with the Capital Centre in Landover and other local facilities that book entertainment events, were added to a 1983 D.C. budget appropriations bill by the House and Senate Appropriations committees.
Abe Pollin, chairman of the Capital Centre, had urged adoption of such restrictions, according to congressional sources.
Aides to members of the two appropriations committees said yesterday that the language for the first time spells out the longstanding intent of Congress to prevent the convention center from competing with other existing facilities.
One aide who has followed the issue closely said that some members no longer will accept the informal assurances of city officials, especially after Mayor Marion Barry was slow to fulfil a promise to increase the number of D.C. policemen.
City Council members David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), who won the Democratic nomination for council chairman last Tuesday, and Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), chairman of a committee with budgetary oversight of the convention center, sent letters to key congressmen yesterday urging them to delete the language from the bill.
"There is no federal interest which dictates federal interference with the reasonable use of this important facility," Clarke said. "Moreover, the large investment which the city made in the convention center was made from an investment perspective. We projected a profit. Restricting the use of the convention center makes bad business sense."
Jarvis, chairman of the council's Housing and Economic Development Committee, said Congress already has "compromised the ability of the District of Columbia government to generate additional tax dollars" by opposing a D.C. commuter tax, and the convention center restrictions "further inhibit the capacity of this city to grow economically."
Meanwhile, Edward Singletary, chairman of the five-member convention center board, said the proposed restrictions were a "disappointing" infringement on his board's policy-making.
"It won't be a disaster -- it won't cause the center to fail from an economic standpoint," Singletary said. "But it will limit the flexibility for using it for everything that the community envisioned it would be used for."
Singletary's comments were in line with concerns expressed earlier by City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers, but varied from an earlier remark by George W. Demarest Jr., manager of the center.
Demarest said Wednesday that the committee action reflected the convention board's policy for the facility, which is scheduled to open in January.
Yesterday, he tempered his remarks by adding: "Certainly we would like to have more flexibility, but we're after a new market that's never come here before."