Grant for ad campaign awaits final OK

February 18, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

The Board of Estimates gave tentative approval yesterday to a $200,000 matching grant to city tourism officials for an advertising campaign to bring badly needed business and conventioneers to Baltimore.

The board reserved final approval of the grant until tourism officials present a detailed marketing plan -- a delay that was prompted by Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's query about what the agency had done in the last few years to sell the city.

"I want to see what they're doing and how they're spending the money," Mrs. McLean said later.

Calling the state of tourism and a drop in use of hotels in the city "a crisis situation," tourism representatives asked the board to approve the grant, saying it would match pledges of $200,000 from Baltimore area hotels, the National Aquarium and Maryland Science Center.

"Tourism is off in Baltimore," said Wayne C. Chappell, executive director of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, a quasi-public city agency. "We need to do something rather dramatic."

Mr. Chappell cited the recession and the delay in expanding the Baltimore Convention Center as reasons for the downturn in convention and hotel business.

To counter it, he told the board, the group was proposing an out-of-town advertising campaign designed to lure visitors to Baltimore, as well as an in-state campaign to bring Maryland businesses to the city for meetings and events.

Mr. Chappell said that he viewed the advertising campaign as a "stop-gap" measure until completion of the $151 million expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center, if it is approved by the Maryland General Assembly this year.

If construction begins this year, the expanded center would not open until 1996, and the renovations of the current center would not take place until 1997, state officials have said.

Michael S. Whipple, the general manager of the Sheraton Inner Harbor who was representing the Hotel-Motel Association of Greater Baltimore, told the board that business was off 20 percent from last year.

"We're in a little bit off a challenge right now," he said.

Mr. Whipple said individual member hotels generally were spending more money than they have in years past, but they were willing to kick in the extra money in an attempt to spur additional interest in Baltimore.

Mr. Chappell told the board that some of the money would be used to update Baltimore promotional material, which features Eddie Murray batting for the Orioles and the now-defunct Fish Market and Power Plant developments being pitched as tourist sites.

After the meeting, Mr. Chappell said his agency planned to use the money to place advertisements in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Mid-Atlantic Country magazine, as well initiate an out-of-town radio campaign. He said that advertising in the New York market and a television campaign would be cost-prohibitive.

Mr. Chappell said his agency already had selected the Baltimore-based Campbell Group to develop the campaign, which will also be designed to bring state business to the city.

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