Officials guiding construction of the Convention Center extension due to open in March say they will not know until October or November whether the nearly $800 million project will contain even a single piece of public art.

James Creedon, secretary of the state Department of General Services, which is overseeing the project, said that funds for public art were contained in the initial project budget. But, he said, his agency has barred use of the money until it becomes clear it will not be needed elsewhere.

"This project has a tight construction budget," he said, adding that managers have been told, " 'We don't want you to touch that line item' " for art.

There is currently no plan in place to acquire and install art for the facility, which is being touted by city and tourism officials as a gateway to Philadelphia's artistic and cultural attractions.

Doug Oliver, spokesman for Mayor Nutter, said that because there was no city funding involved in construction, there was no municipal requirement for art.

"It's funded by the state," he said. Nutter, who was chairman of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority before taking office, has been on vacation and was unavailable for direct comment.

"We support public art," Oliver said. "We think there should be a permanent exhibition in the new building, as there is in the current one. We'll work with the state and the Convention Center Authority to accomplish that."

Ameenah Young, president and chief executive of the Convention Center Authority, said $1.5 million originally had been budgeted for art.

"I'm encouraged that we'll be able to use it," she said Friday.

The agency's first priority, Creedon said, is to complete the building on time and on budget. If that can be accomplished without spending every penny, he added, the state had a responsibility to do it - even if it meant no funds for public art.

That said, Creedon indicated that some public art might eventually be included in the finished center. "It's looking possible we are going to have enough [money] to have it," he said. An answer will come in about two months.

Officials at the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, which served as a state agent in assembling the land for the project, said the RDA's art requirement - which requires developers building on land acquired by the authority to utilize up to 1 percent of construction costs to commission works of art - did not apply for the Convention Center expansion.

Terry Gillen, head of the authority, said she was uncertain why that was the case.

City public-art officials said they were dismayed that the construction had proceeded so far without a firm commitment and plan for public art.

When the project first came before the city Art Commission in 2002, commission members inquired about planning for art, and Convention Center officials said a plan was in development.

Members of the Art Commission raised the issue again in 2006 and received the same response. The commission has given various unconditional approvals in the last decade for Convention Center plans. None of those approvals contained any art requirement, officials said.

A committee comprising city and convention center officials and leaders of city cultural institutions has met a few times and has discussed the absence of public-art planning, according to Gary Steuer, the city's cultural officer.

Members of the committee - which is led by David Brigham, president of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, across North Broad Street from the Convention Center - said acquisition of permanent works of public art had been taken off the table by budget-conscious Convention Center officials.

Committee discussion has gravitated toward the possible inclusion of temporary exhibitions of work by children from the Philadelphia School District, students from city art schools, and local professional artists.

There also has been talk of bringing in the city's Mural Arts Program to carry out some center-related project.

Steuer said such plans were no substitute for permanent works of public art.

"This is a major new public building and should have an important public art program in keeping with the scale and significance of the structure," he wrote in an e-mail Friday. "I believe the inclusion of important public art will actually add to the business success of the Convention Center. I hope that a way can be found to add permanent public art to the building, and will do all I can, on behalf of the mayor, to help facilitate that."

Marsha Moss, a public-art consultant who has worked with many public-art programs in Philadelphia, said only permanent works could reflect those values.

"Philadelphia has this rich tradition of public art of the highest quality," she said. "When visitors come to the Convention Center, do they remember the architecture? I don't think so."

The budget for the initial Convention Center project, completed 15 years ago, contained $2 million for public art. That sum, negotiated between the city and the state, eventually funded acquisition of 61 works, including sculptor Judy Pfaff's enormous cirque CIRQUE, suspended from the ceiling of the Convention Center's grand hall in the old Reading train shed.

"That's what people from all over the world remember about the city," Moss said.

Nothing even remotely like that appears to be on the table for the center's extension.

Convention Center president Young said state officials had made clear "they aren't going to authorize any commitment of funds" until construction needs had been fulfilled.

She said there had been "a myriad of suggestions" for art coming from members of the Brigham committee, but "without a budget," nothing concrete has emerged from the talks.

"Ultimately, it's the state that controls the purse strings," she said.