Park's economic effect will take time to judge

April 01, 1992|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Baltimore's new baseball stadium might advance downtown development and polish the state's international image. But the lasting economic impact on the region is tougher to estimate and will depend on the ability of Oriole Park at Camden Yards to keep fans coming back year after year.

State officials predict the stadium will act as a magnet, luring fans from a wide area to spend money at attractions such as the Inner Harbor and National Aquarium. It also will add to the region's quality of life, helping to convince businesses to locate plants and offices here, the officials predict.

But independent experts say the stadium's greatest economic pTC impact is its role in simply keeping the team from moving out of state. Beyond that, the wealth generated might end up only modestly exceeding that created by the team playing at Memorial Stadium.

"It's a real tough call whether this will increase your economic impact or whether it will move the dollars from one pocket to the other," said Paul Lambert, a consultant who has studied the impact of baseball teams for Van Horn Associates, a sports consulting and marketing firm.

In a three-page report drawn up last week, the Department of Economic and Employment Development estimated the new stadium will generate $204 million in annual sales, $70 million in employee income and support the equivalent of 2,100 full-time jobs.

But the bulk of that impact would have been generated at Memorial Stadium, especially if fan attendance continued to rise.

The key will be the ability of the stadium to keep attendance high after the novelty has worn off. Especially important will be its draw for fans from out of the area and its ability to convince tourists to lengthen their stay in town, experts say.

The Orioles are projecting 3 million fans this year, up 20 percent from last season.

But the test will come after the "honeymoon period," Mr. Lambert said.

"I think you're going to see very good attendance in the first two or three years. But if the level of the Orioles play stays where it is, I think you'll see attendance go back down, maybe to the level of Memorial Stadium," he said.

Ross Boyle, an economic development expert with Growth Strategies Organization Inc. of Reston Va., said: "You've burnished the city's image and that's important.

"But in terms of attracting companies and economic development to town, I don't think it will be all that important," Mr. Boyle said.

He said the city already enjoys the advantages of image and economics of having a major league team.

These experts say the stadium provides more opportunities for people to spend money. But unless a fan's income rises, he or she won't be spending any more money, just spending it differently. For example, a family might devote more of its entertainment budget to baseball at the expense of going bowling.

"You've shifted some of the activity but you haven't increased the total," Mr. Boyle said. Retail trade might increase around the new stadium but will likely fall off around Memorial Stadium, he said.

Most significant in an economic sense will be the team's ability to draw more fans from Washington, the source of about a quarter of the team's fans, Mr. Lambert said. The stadium's location cuts 20 to 30 minutes off a trip to the game.

In many cases, money spent by these fans would not come to Baltimore if not for the Orioles, he said.

Stadium-related employment will rise by a few hundred, but state officials acknowledge these will be largely low-wage jobs for the 81 home games. The new stadium's special lounges and clubs will provide part-time work for about 400 workers beyond the 425 that worked at Memorial Stadium, according to a spokeswoman for ARA Services, which operates the concessions at both stadiums.

The Orioles employ about 100 full-time workers and about 200 part-timers who work during games only. No change in this is anticipated with the new stadium, a spokesman said.

The DEED study assumed 20 percent higher attendance and estimated the economic impact will be $25 million more in sales, based largely on higher ticket prices and attendance. The state estimates the equivalent of 300 full-time jobs, and $11 million in payroll, will be added as a result of the new stadium.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday that the economic development benefits are already being seen in such things as the development of Camden Station, the historic railroad station adjacent to the park.

If area merchants prepare for the bonanza and treat customers well, they will prosper, he said.

"You're going to have people pouring into this place like never before. The economic impact in this state will be great," he

predicted at a news conference.

He pointed to estimates that the construction alone created $140 million in sales and the equivalent of 944 full-time jobs.

Pradeep Ganguly, an economist with DEED, said: "You've created a major business attraction. You've created a critical mass for sports development and general business development."

Memorial Stadium's residential location provided fewer opportunities for fans to spend money than will Camden Yards, he said. It could boost convention business at the nearby Convention Center and convince tourists to extend their visits in Baltimore to take in an extra game, he said.

From the perspective of urban renewal, the stadium is a hit in almost everyone's eyes.

"You don't have to be an economic whiz kid to see it is so integrated into the commercial landscape that it enhances everything around it. That's the real value of the stadium," said Mitch Horowitz, an economic development expert with the Corporation for Enterprise Development in Washington.

"It's not going to pay back the costs of the stadium in a year, but, over the lifetime of the stadium, hopefully it will," Mr. Horowitz said.

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