Camden Yards a grand slam for area businesses

PLAY BALL, AND SPEND MONEY!

December 16, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

The season ended months ago, but the good news keeps coming from Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

City and Orioles officials gathered at the new ballpark yesterday to announce that the inaugural season wasn't only a financial smash for the team's owners. Also winning big, they said, were area restaurants, hotels -- even museums -- where baseball fans plunked down money at a record pace last season.

Those businesses, which for years were passed by as fans threaded their way through city streets to Memorial Stadium, suddenly have become an important part of many fans' ballgame routine.

The result? In some cases, merchants raked in three times as many dollars from fans headed to Camden Yards, according to a survey conducted by the city's Department of Planning.

Last season, fan spending at downtown businesses was up to $30.2 million from $8.4 million in 1991. Although they didn't match those levels, suburban restaurants and hotels also cashed in on the stadium effect with an increase to $7.9 million from $4.9 million.

Stadium supporters have long predicted the new downtown location would be a boon for bars, restaurants and other businesses located within a short walk of Camden Yards. And the figures released yesterday seemed to prove

the point.

"The new stadium brought people downtown. It was a magnet," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who said he asked city officials to compile their study so that the record would be clear on the economic benefits to the city and suburbs.

"Some people were skeptical when this facility was first planned, but all that skepticism should be laid to rest today," Mr. Schmoke said. "We have quite a jewel, not only for sports fans but for economic impact in this region."

There probably would be no argument from the fans who streamed into the $106.5 million, state-financed ballpark in record numbers last season. The Orioles set a franchise attendance record with home attendance of 3.56 million, including sellouts of their last 59 games.

The city's study, based on interviews with 982 fans over three games in late summer, shows that those fans came from the usual strongholds, Baltimore and the Washington suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.

But when they moved to Camden Yards, the Orioles also became a hot attraction for tourists visiting Baltimore from other cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco. An estimated 835,000 from outside the Baltimore-Washington corridor took in a game at Camden Yards last season. That's more fans than saw the Orioles play at Memorial Stadium in each of their first five years in Baltimore.

The figures released yesterday confirmed results from an earlier report compiled after the season by the state's Department of Economic and Employment Development. That study focused on the economic impact of the new ballpark throughout the state, using, among other things, data from Orioles ticket sales.

Several studies compiled before construction of the stadium projected increases for downtown businesses, though none at the levels found in the latest city study.

The influx of fans to the stadium not only helped hotels and restaurants, but also boosted attendance at downtown attractions.

At the Inner Harbor, the Maryland Science Center enjoyed a 3.2 percent gain in admissions on days the Orioles were playing at the stadium. At the Babe Ruth Birthplace, the increase on game days was about 100 percent, to 800 from 400 visitors, said the museum's executive director, Michael Gibbons.

"I attribute a fair amount of that to the stadium," said Mr. Gibbons, who noted that the museum extended its hours on game nights to lure fans leaving the ballpark.

What the survey didn't predict was whether the economic effects of the new ballpark can be sustained. Although the novelty is sure to wear off eventually, a drop in fan interest isn't likely next year: In July, Camden Yards will host Baltimore's first All-Star Game in 35 years.

"All Star Week may push the numbers higher. We think there is still momentum," Mr. Schmoke said.

City officials also predicted that fans would venture outside the stadium more as the inside becomes more familiar.

"We speculate that many fans spent a lot of their time in the ballpark this year just getting acquainted," said Rachel F. Edds, acting director of the city Planning Department. "As time passes and people know it, there is a good chance they may combine their [ballpark] trips with visits to nearby places."

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