Baltimore's rites of spring

April 07, 1994

The transformation of Baltimore's Inner Harbor from rotting piers into a glittering waterfront recreational area is part of the nation's urban legend. But even as spring weather is drawing hordes of out-of-town tourists downtown, Baltimore promotion officials complain that thousands of locals never take advantage of attractions there.

This weekend they are testing an intriguing question: If you throw a free party, will Baltimoreans come?

On Saturday and Sunday, downtown shops, restaurants, institutions and neighborhoods will offer nearly 100 activities for everyone to explore. They range from an antiques auction and free appraisals of collectibles to brewery tours, art exhibits and craft demonstrations. There will be plenty of free music.

"We need to do a better job of promoting our strengths among people who live and work in downtown and the metropolitan area," explains Laurie Schwartz, a prime mover behind the event.

The two-day open house represents an unusual community effort that has drawn nationwide attention. What has particularly flabbergasted out-of-towners is that the event is accompanied by an advertising campaign for which promoters, spearheaded by the Downtown Partnership, managed to raise $250,000 in cash and media contributions.

"If it all sounds a little hokey, maybe it is," the New York Times wrote recently. "But an advertising campaign selling a city to the people who live there can be an effective tool against the kind of urban rot that undermines municipal efforts at a time that the federal government has left states and cities substantially on their own against violence, drug abuse and other civic ills."

This weekend's hoopla kicks off a busy schedule of events leading to Preakness Week in May and festivals throughout the summer. For locals wanting to avoid peak-season crowds, this weekend offers an ideal opportunity to steal a glance.

It is easy to forget that Baltimore has come a long way in the past two decades. Anyone doubting that should take a look at Bawlamer, the annual guide book that was published for several years in the 1970s. Compared to today's offerings, pickings were slim. Even the smog that used to hover over what today is the Inner Harbor area is gone!

Baltimoreans have quite a bit to celebrate during this weekend's bash.

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