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Del Andrew O. Mothershead (D-Prince George's) confirmed that William Levitt, of Levitt Industries and Levitt and Sons, Inc., (developers of Bowlo) had pledged to develop and help finance the convention center.
County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr. would not confirm the Levitt agreement, although he has scheduled a press conferences for today to discuss the convention center. "I guess it was the ingenuity of the private developer who looked at the stories of our plight and put together the proposal," Kelly said without elaborating.
Mothershead, who has introduced the bond bill, said that "one major contractor" has already expressed a willingness to build the center without being paid "until the center is operating and the county can pay him back."
Sources in the Prince George's County delegation in Annapolis said that the contractor is the George Hyman Construction Co., which built the controversial Union Station Visitor Center.
The effort by Prince Goerge's to build a convention center in Largo comes at the same time the District of Columbia is completing plans for a much larger convention facility downtown, probably near Mount Vernon Square NW.
The District is planning a 300,000-square-foot center - large enough for the biggest national conventions, such as those held by the American-Bar Association and the American Medical Association, that now bypass the Washington area due to lack of an adequate facility of the size the District hopes to build.
Although final plans are not completed, the city estimates that its convention center will cost about $100 million, which the District will probably borrow from the U.S. Treasury and repay with interest over 10 or 20 years.
Ben W. Gilbert, director of the D.C. Municipal Planning Office, said yesterday that he does not believe the Prince George's County center will affect the District's plans to go ahead or offer significant competition to the downtown convention center.
"They're really aiming at a different (convention) market," Gilbert said, adding that the facility in Largo, because of its size, would compete with conventions centers in Baltimore and Ocean Bay City, rather than with the proposed D.C. center.
Asked if there was room in the Washington area for two convention centers, even if one is in the 100,000-square-foot range and the other in the 300,000-square-foot range. Gilbert replied: "That's a question I think Prince George's should answer."
Earlier this year County Executive Kelly postponed all plans for a center because of budget problems. But businessmen, county officials and Levitt drafted this proposal that would not demand any county money.
Del Mothershead has introduced two pieces of legislation that are necessary if the county goes ahead with the project. One bill authorizes the $20 million in state bonds. The other bill would allow the country to enter into this unique scheme for private financing of projects.
Levitt, who retains county Democratic leader Peter F. O'Malley as his attorney, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The Hyman Construction Co. refused to comment on the proposal.
Prince George's County officials and businessmen have long sought to grab the convention center for the captial area away from the District government. Last summer Kelly announced plans for a center and since then and the city have been running neck-and-neck in finance and build a convention center.
But the county cannot wait for another legislative session if it hopes to beat out the District's bid for a convention center. Earlier this year, Rep. William R. Natcher (D-Ky.) dropped his previous opposition to a convention center for the District, buoying the hopes of city officials for their $80 million center.
Natcher, chairman of the House District Appropriations Subcommittee, was considered to be among the influential members of Congress whose opposition played an important part in Congress's abandoning plans for a proposed Eisenhower Civic Center in 1974.
"We put up the Capital Centre, which has been a tremendous success," Mothershead said. "There's no reason why our convention center won't be an equal success - it may be the end of any increases in our county real estate taxes. I'm serious about that."