Ballpark's economic impact is uncertain It will depend on drawing power, expert predict.

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 persuade businesses to move plants and offices here, the officials predict.

But independent experts say the stadium's greatest economic impact is its role in simply keeping the team from moving out of state. Beyond that, the wealth generated might only modestly exceed that created by the team's 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 and $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 persuade tourists to lengthen their stays 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.

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 Orioles employ about 100 full-time workers and about 200 part-timers who work during games only. No change is anticipated, a spokesman said.

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.

COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY

* The distance from first and third bases to the stands at Oriole Park at Camden Yards is 45 feet, 20 feet closer than Memorial Stadium. From home to the backstop is 55 feet, 3 feet closer than Memorial Stadium.

* The Morgan State University choir and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will perform the national anthem Opening Day.

* The new stadium has 1,000 loudspeakers.

* A study has indicated that wind generally will blow out to right field.

* Inside: Light-rail line may not be able to handle Opening Day crowds 2A

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