PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The state of Rhode Island officially entered the convention center business Friday.
Gov. Bruce C. Sundlun signed into law a $290 million piece of legislation that will finance building the center and an accompanying hotel, as well as buying the nearby Omni Biltmore hotel.
Calling it one of the most significant development projects in state history, Sundlun said the convention center will generate 1,500 construction jobs and, once the building is finished, 3,500 permanent jobs. It will also position Rhode Island to attract conventions in the Northeast that do not need the larger-scale facilities offered in Boston and New York.
'I believe it represents one more step in our state's slow but steady advance toward renewed economic vitality and growth ... it says that we as Rhode Islanders have the self-confidence and faith in ourselves to undertake a project of this magnitude,' he said.
The talk of economic vision and self-confidence was echoed by other state and business leaders on hand for the legislation signing, and seemed to be an effort to allay fears the state cannot afford a massive project in the midst of a recession and a banking crisis.
Rep. Frank Fiorenzano, D-Providence, who led the fight for the bill in the House, said the 'easy thing to do' would have been to forget about the project. But he said the state 'needs a jump start' and the convention center will provide it.
Businessman Richard Oster, chairman of the Convention Center Authority, said construction on the project will start Monday and conclude in 1994. He predicted the convention center will run a $5 milllion profit over the first 10 years of operation, when economic benefits such as hotel and parking revenues are taken into account.
The most contentious aspect of the project was not the convention center itself but the hotels. The legislation includes $90 million to build a 260-room hotel on the convention center site and buy the Omni Biltmore from the Providence Journal Co.
Originally, the Journal was to be a partner with the Convention Center Authority in running the facility, but it backed out when its involvement became a controversy.
Opponents of the hotel and the convention center say the state should not be getting itself into the hotel business and that the area already has plenty of hotel rooms to support a convention center.