Festival planners feel Baltimore has rolled back the red carpet

July 05, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

To many who put on the city's festivals and footraces, Baltimore increasingly seems like a pained and reluctant host, secretly longing for its guests to take the hint and leave.

Some already have.

Within the past two years, the Tour Du Pont cycling race and the Jewish Festival decided to move to more hospitable sites, citing a lack of enthusiasm on the city's part. Meanwhile, organizers for the Fells Point Fun Festival and the Latino Festival say they will have to shut down if the city follows through on a proposal to increase fees for services.

Money isn't the only issue. The Jewish Festival, for example, will pay more for its location at Owings Mills Mall. But the mall's support in promoting the event makes the move worth it, said Chairman Leonard Schleider, who says the city's interest in festivals has been eroding steadily since Gov. William Donald Schaefer's days as mayor.

"It's constantly been a whittling away," Mr. Schleider said. "The city has added charges, but the services are not the same. We felt it was a little too risky."

Lyn Brooks, who took the Bud Lite Triathlon out of state because of problems with Baltimore County, said the city was always amenable to her event. But she, too, said it's a different world from the one presided over by the festival-crazed Mr. Schaefer in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"Things definitely have changed," she said.

"That's not to pick on this administration. Schaefer is almost the other extreme. He sings, he loves the pomp and circumstance. Schaefer's era has gone for good."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said last week that the city isn't inhospitable, just poor. As to the perception that the city's enthusiasm for street festivals seems to be waning, the mayor insisted that people are responding simply to the possibility of fee increases.

"We love the festivals," he said. "But at some point, we have to look into some kind of cost-sharing."

And for-profit events, such as the Tour Du Pont, expected too much from the city, Mr. Schmoke said.

Yet, some organizers are adamant that city officials can be sweetly obstinate -- taking their time approving site permits, refusing to compromise on race routes without explanation.

"On the surface, all the people at the mayor's office are extremely cooperative," said Bea Haskins, special-events coordinator for the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point.

"The workers are more than cooperative. But between the red tape and the non-compromising attitude, we get the feeling they not recognize our value," Ms. Haskins said.

Her group's Fells Point Fun Festival has attracted crowds of up to 200,000. Ms. Haskins said the event is a boon for area merchants as festival-goers crowd into neighborhood shops, restaurants and bars.

Races, most of which generate little revenue for city businesses, seem to be especially unpopular, said Les Kinion, secretary for the Road Runners Club and a promoter for several city footraces.

The city refuses to allow runners on Pratt Street, he said, and generally bans races on Orioles home dates.

"There seems to be a 'do-not-touch-Harborplace' attitude by the city, even at 8 a.m. on a Sunday," Mr. Kinion complained. "Unless it's the Orioles Parade or the Preakness Parade.

"It seems all the big money can do what it wants, but the little guy can't get a break."

The Tour Du Pont

For two years, Baltimore was a featured stop on what was then known as the Tour de Trump, the largest and most prestigious bicycle race in the United States. But in 1991, the renamed Tour Du Pont was forced out of the city because of Preakness Week activities.

Promoters said they hoped to return, but this year's race from Wilmington, Del., to Washington, D.C., stopped in Hagerstown instead.

"It didn't fit in with Mayor Schmoke's plan," said David Williams, venue development director for Medalist Sports Inc., the sponsor. "Mayor Schmoke's office seemed to be the stumbling block."

Mr. Schmoke says he simply could not justify providing lodging and meals for the tour and its entourage, about 675 people in all.

Mr. Williams conceded that this conditional cost is "not a small piece of change."

But the money spent by spectators and the television exposure was a good return on the city's investment, he said.

CBS and ESPN both carried coverage of the 11-day event, won by three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond.

From OK to No-K

Two small races -- the 10-40K and the Police Chase -- were canceled this year, caught in a scheduling crunch that prohibits races on the same day as Oriole home games. The new policy, triggered by the Orioles' relocation to Camden Yards, is supposed to be applied on a case-by-case basis, according to city officials. But few exceptions have been made.

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