They Did Us a Favor

December 08, 1993|By DAVID W. BARTON Jr.

Being a crybaby is hardly becoming to Baltimore. Worse, crying over losing a contest for an NFL football franchise wastes tears on the wrong object. A 26-to-2 vote sends a message. Apparently, Baltimore can't hear it.

Baltimoreans seem fixed on the notion that an undeserving Jacksonville benefited from double-dealing by evil football-team owners. The real reason to cry, if Baltimoreans must, is that its city appears as ''a finished city,'' not a ''hot market'' or a city

with ''municipal passion.''

The real reason to cry is that Baltimore's vision of itself continues to be rooted in its past. One would have thought that the Colts' defection to Indianapolis 10 years ago would have awakened Baltimore to the fact that it is no longer a center of some important universe. Of and by itself ''the Baltimore market'' is now poorly positioned to compete for any new major league franchise.

Think of it: Baltimore would not be invented today as a major port city if it didn't exist. Norfolk, now positioned as ''the Virginia Ports'' and CSX railroad have seen to that by exploiting their commanding strategic advantages. Yet our well-intentioned governor, determined after two rebuffs not to let football commissioner Paul Tagliabue ''make a monkey of us,'' is hell-bent on redoubling a Baltimore franchise effort.

What is needed is to reposition the Baltimore appeal as a vital part of a unique market. The Baltimore-Washington common market is the fourth-largest in the United States. ''Local'' television beams signals to over 6,000,000 people, 10 times the size of Jacksonville's market. This is the hottest growth market in the United States. Just this year, Baltimore-Washington (or Washington-Baltimore) was designated a single SMSA (standard metropolitan statistical area). This significant advantage must be packaged and promoted.

Think of it! Here is a market with the fourth-largest buying power after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago; with a work force that leads the nation in high-tech skills; with a location unmatched; with the best transportation system anywhere and a host of other advantages that make an Indianapolis or a Jacksonville seem like frontier weighing stations.

It's not Paul Tagliabue's fault that 26 of 28 owners don't know this. It is our own fault. Clearly, we have the image of a ''finished city'' with little future. It is time to project the Baltimore Washington Common Market, focusing on its overall advantages, and then portray Baltimore within this appeal.

New York has multiple major-league teams; so do Los Angeles and Chicago. Why not Baltimore-Washington?

Cities like Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Nashville (perhaps our next nemesis) long ago recognized they had to do something dramatic to project a vibrant image. Each formed a single metropolitan government. Each is surging along in this format. Cities like Baltimore and St. Louis are still political and marketing freaks, with their separate city and county subdivisions squabbling over everything, diluting leadership interests and regional appeal.

We should thank, not curse the NFL team owners for hammering home their view of us as a back water town. Now maybe the repositioning of our region can occur. At issue is far more than a mere football franchise. It is setting the stage for a revitalizing drama for a renewed Baltimore.

David W. Barton Jr. was chairman of the Baltimore City Planning Commission from 1960 to 1970.

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