March of Dimes Walk-A-Thon strolls back into city

December 24, 1993|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

The March of Dimes Walk-A-Thon, which fled the city and its new event fees last spring after 22 highly successful years, is returning to Baltimore in April.

"We are very appreciative of the support we have received from the city. We have been working on [our return] for a long time," said William Middleton, chairman of the Maryland chapter of the March of Dimes. "We fully expected last year to come back. And we are looking forward to another 20-plus years in Baltimore."

Those conciliatory words are a far cry from the angry rhetoric that flew when the March of Dimes left the city because of new fees that walk organizers say would consume much of the fund raiser's expected profit.

The decision to move last April's Walk-A-Thon stripped Baltimore of an event that for 22 years brought together as many 30,000 people and was hailed as one of the most successful Walk-A-Thons in the country.

At the time, March of Dimes officials said that it would cost an estimated $100,000 to pay city fees for the police, sanitation and traffic-control services required for the Walk-A-Thon. City officials said the group was wildly overstating the cost of the event.

Mari B. Ross, an assistant to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, said that no fees have been developed for the 1994 Walk-A-Thon, scheduled for April 17. She said the fees will hinge, to some degree, on the route used for the walk.

"We have not established any fees because the route is not established," she said. "We will be working with them to find the most cost-effective way to hold the event."

She said the walk route should be worked out by February, after which the fees will be set.

Organizers said they expect the walk to bring together an estimated 10,000 walkers. The Baltimore City Walk-A-Thon will be followed by walks in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Carroll and Howard counties on April 24. The city walk is being held a week earlier because an Orioles baseball game is scheduled in Baltimore for April 24.

The March of Dimes is a nonprofit group that runs programs and provides grants to help prevent birth defects and reduce infant mortality.

When the walk was moved from the city last April, many people nTC saw it as a sign of things to come. They said the fees -- imposed by the city last January to cover the cost of services it provides for festivals, parades and other gatherings -- would make it impossible for many groups to support the hundreds of street festivals, block parties, parades and marches that are a hallmark of Baltimore.

Despite threats from several groups upset by the new fee structure, Ms. Ross said the Walk-A-Thon was the only event that actually left the city because of the fees. Most problems associated with the fees resulted from misinformation about what the city would charge, she said.

"We realize that nonprofits can't afford to pay a lot money in fees and we try to work with them," she said. "But the city is a nonprofit, too."

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