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Business & Developmentby Fern Shen8:55 amAug 23, 20110

Hole-y roof, Batman! Convention Center leaks on Comic-Con!

Above: Mermaids were better suited than mere mortals for conditions at the Baltimore Convention Center, where the roof began leaking in several spots during Comic-Con Sunday.

Comic book fans who had paid $40 apiece for photos of themselves with Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee at Sunday’s Baltimore Comic-Con cast sharp eyes on the table where the costly 8 x 10 color glossies were being laid out.

And when one woman noticed that a leak in the Baltimore Convention Center roof was sending drops of water dangerously close to the finished photos, she and other fans started to howl.

“Refunding the money is one thing, but they would never be able to replace that picture,” she said, after alerting Comic-Con officials to the problem. A staffer moved the photos to safety (none appeared to have been harmed), then repositioned the plastic trash can intended to catch the leaks.

“I hate to ask, but could you get me some paper towels from the ladies room?” the staffer asked a fan before wiping off the soggy table.

 Photos were moved off this table but the drips kept falling in this trash container. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Photos were moved off this table but the drips kept falling in this trash container. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The leak was one of several plopping down onto the 12th Baltimore Comic-Con during Sunday’s torrential rain and evidence of long-standing roof problems at the aging convention hall.

On Sunday, drippage was occurring in the exhibition halls on the east side of the Convention Center, the part of the facility completed in 1979 and the area where the comics-lovers convention was taking place. Most of the drips were being caught with trash buckets. Yellow caution signs had been set up to warn of possible slippery spots. At least one leak – just inside the East Building’s front entrance on Pratt St., an area known as the Charles Street Lobby – hadn’t gotten a bucket and the drips were simply falling on the floor creating a wet patch.

The crowd wasn’t particularly bothered by these glitches. Comics aficionados jammed sellers’ stalls bristling with rare and vintage comics, clustered around the auteurs in Artist’s Alley and ogled the plastic action figures, as well as each other.

Thor had great dignity. And a big hammer. (Photo by Fern Shen

Thor had great dignity. And a big hammer. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Among the costumed, there were barrel-chested, green Hulks, half-horrible Two-Faces and naughty, latex-encased Catwomen. Fur-and-metal-clad Spartan soldiers (a la 300) struck a pose for anyone, anywhere – girding for the Battle of Thermopylae outside the rest-rooms or beside fans munching cheese steak sandwiches.

Millions for Makeover and Roof Repair

But while the heavy rain outside (and inside) Comic-Con didn’t dampen spirits, to use the cliché, it did expose the Convention Center’s chronic leaky roof issues. Officials there said that they are aware of the problem and working on it.

“There are leaks in Hall A. A minor leak,” said Jennifer J. Douglass, public information officer for the center, saying that the roof problems were only evident Sunday “because of the force of the rain.”

Three trash cans set up to catch dipping water from the Convention Center roof. (Photo by Fern Shen

Three trash cans set up to catch dripping water from the Convention Center roof. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“It’s being worked on as we speak,” Douglass said yesterday in a phone interview with The Brew.

Asked if the work is part of the $24.4 million being spent on a Convention Center spruce-up, though, Douglass stressed that the expenditures are separate and “more under regular maintenance.”

The Center, built in 1979 and expanded in 1996, has been undergoing an overhaul, getting new carpeting, paint and improving the rest-rooms. The city Board of Estimates has been approving contracts for the work, like the $19.6 million expenditure approved in June for a lighting upgrade.

Repairing a persistent problem with a leaky roof has been a big part of the convention center makeover. They spent $2.24 million last year to change the outside terrace into a “green roof” covered with drought resistant plants, and to add outside seating and other amenities.

Ironically, at the same time millions in city funds are being spent to fix up the Convention Center, city leaders are pushing the idea of a $900 million expansion of the Convention Center, part of a deal that would involve building a new Arena. If that were to happen, the east side of the facility would likely be demolished.

Asked if the projects are contradictory, Convention Center officials have said that the expansion project would, if approved, be years away and that they need to keep the current building in shape in the meantime.

So, was the green roof leaking Sunday?

No, Douglass said, the green roof is “fine” and in a different area. Asked what halls it is over, she said “C and D.” Asked where Comic-Con took place, she said “A, B and C.”

 For $40, at Baltimore Comic-Con, you could have your picture taken with Stan Lee. (Photo by Fern Shen)

For $40, at Baltimore Comic-Con, you could have your picture taken with Stan Lee. (Photo by Fern Shen)

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