Nashville asks Baltimore for renaissance lessons

April 25, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

In his first hour in Maryland yesterday, Burton Hummell caught a glimpse of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, heard a sales pitch about the state's mass transit system and toured the National Aquarium.

Then he ate his lunch -- a Maryland crab cake.

It was a hectic start for Mr. Hummell and 79 fellow members of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, who arrived yesterday for a three-day tour of Baltimore. They are checking out the city's renaissance to see if it offers any lessons to apply toward the redevelopment of Tennessee's second-largest city.

"In Nashville, we do things a little slower," said Mr. Hummell, chief executive officer and president of a food distribution company. "We're trying to get where Baltimore is, and we're really starting to take off."

Marguerite W. Sallee, chairwoman-elect of the Nashville chamber, said Nashville is eager to make the most out of its new, unnamed $100 million entertainment complex and its $40 million state-funded Bicentennial Mall.

Both are due to be completed by June 1996, in time to help Tennessee celebrate its bicentennial, she said.

Nashville, a city of 510,000 along the Cumberland River, is trying to lure the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA basketball team to play in its new complex. It also would like to win a National Hockey League franchise, said Chase Cole, a Nashville lawyer working with the chamber to attract a sports franchise.

Camden Yards, he said, proves the benefits that sports can bring to a city.

"That park [Oriole Park] is just beautiful," said Mr. Cole, who made his first visit to the new stadium on his birthday last June. "That kind of thing can really be a boost."

But Ms. Sallee said that, along with eyeing the usual tourist attractions, the group is interested in seeing how Baltimore handles basic cityservices, such as schools and police.

"We want to look at the whole renaissance, how Baltimore's managed to become a tourist destination, and also how it addresses concerns about crime and education issues, all the things people care about," she said.

Toward that end, group members -- who are sporting blue and white name tags that read "Music City, USA" -- are scheduled to have dinner with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and hear talks by Baltimore philanthropist Walter Sondheim and Bruce Hoffman, director of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

They also will watch a game at Camden Yards and tour Fells Point, the Sandtown/Winchester community and Barclay Elementary School, where the independent Calvert School curriculum is being used in an experimental program.

First stop: Aquarium

In their first stop yesterday, chamber members were brought to the aquarium's Harborview Room, a banquet and meeting site with a picture window overlooking the waterfront.

There, they were given a thumbnail sketch of the history of Baltimore's Inner Harbor and heard about crime prevention programs and partnership programs that link businesses with city services.

"The downtown area is one of the safest parts of the city," said Deputy Police Commissioner Eugene Tanzymore Jr., chief of patrol operations.

The city homicide rate may have broken all records last year. But most of the killings were in residential areas, not downtown, he said.

Downtown, he told the group, the most common types of crime are purse-snatching and car break-ins.

David M. Gillece, a real estate consultant and former president of the Charles Center-Inner Harbor Development Corp. who helped plan the Inner Harbor redevelopment, told the Tennesseans that persevering in the face of opposition has been a key to success.

"We didn't do anything without pain or controversy; they were all tough decisions," he said.

Early doubters

Neither Harborplace nor the aquarium was widely accepted when first proposed, he said. The issue of putting the private Harborplace development on the public waterfront land was contested in a referendum.

"The naysayers referred to the aquarium as [then Mayor William Donald] Schaefer's fish tank," he said.

Mr. Gillece did not soft-sell the region's problems. He noted that most of the households in Maryland with incomes below federal poverty levels lie inside the city limits, while its best-funded school systems lie outside them.

"We're probably doing as bad a job as anywhere in the country in terms of taking a regional approach to the area's needs," he said.

He later said that officials from Baltimore would be smart to make similar fact-finding trips to other cities to gather ideas for future redevelopment projects.

"It's always a good idea to see what other towns are doing," he said.

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