All hams on deck! Baltimore needs host

March 07, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

Do you wow friends with your zany wit? Dream of challenging David Letterman with a whole new line of Top 10 lists?

Baltimore has a job for you.

Worried that tourists and even some of Baltimore's own are no longer venturing into the downtown streets, the city is launching an aggressive campaign to promote the Inner Harbor and surrounding area.

The key to the marketing will be a series of television, radio and print advertisements patterned after late-night television talk shows. The ads will feature a roving, professional host with a glib line on the latest event in downtown Baltimore.

Armed with a movable couch and microphone, the host will set up shop each month at a new location, from the brick streets of Fells Point to the hot dog stands of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. A one-man band will play a jazzy tune before the host interviews local celebrities, athletes, musicians, tourists or even a palm reader or two.

"I think it's going to make a whole lot of people feel good about our downtown," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said. "We're asking people to rediscover Baltimore, to re-explore all we have in the city."

Even though the downtown crime rate is low, the mayor said, many visitors and suburbanites think the city is unsafe.

"I'm very concerned about that," Mr. Schmoke acknowledged after unveiling the campaign Thursday.

The city is hard at work to change the perception of grime and crime, he said. The mayor credited the teams of street sweepers and security guards hired by the Downtown Partnership, a private business group that promotes downtown Baltimore, with helping that effort.

In conjunction with the ad campaign, business leaders will distribute 100,000 discount cards for services, stores, restaurants, museums and other downtown attractions.

To lure people downtown, the city also plans to hold a huge festival the weekend of April 9 and 10. Streets and plazas from the Inner Harbor to Fells Point will be transformed into a stage full of music and dancing.

Business leaders organizing the "open house" -- which will feature more than 100 family-oriented events -- say they're confident that it will be successful even though several city street festivals have languished in recent years.

"I think it's different than a street festival where you just go to one location," said Brian Lewbart, a spokesman for the Downtown Partnership.

More than $300,000 has been raised from businesses for the ads and the rest of the promotional campaign, with a goal of $600,000. W. B. Doner and Co., Maryland's largest advertising firm, offered free services to develop the commercials.

The campaign is loosely modeled after the "I love New York" spots. But Baltimore plans to move the ad locations to market a new attraction each month, said Jim Dale, chairman and CEO of W. B. Doner.

Auditions for the host of Baltimore's own talk-show will be held March 12 and 13 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Harborplace's Light Street Pavilion.

All you need to qualify is to be funny, charming, zany and possess a good knowledge of Baltimore.

Asked if he planned to try out, the mayor gave a self-deprecating grin and maintained he didn't meet all the criteria. Apparently not that many people call him zany.

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