Dismal home festival

April 28, 1994

Ask city officials about last weekend's Baltimore Home Festival and they blame its dismal turnout on summer-like weather. Poppycock!

If anything, the fine weather -- combined with a daytime Orioles game -- would have provided a splendid backdrop for the festival in the Convention Center, had it been better organized.

Hundreds of potential visitors walked by the festival site, but there were no clear signs to pull them in to see more than a hundred exhibits by Baltimore neighborhoods, non-profit organizations and real estate-related private firms.

Perhaps that was just as well since so many of the booths were empty, even though they had been designated to organizations and companies.

There is plenty of blame to go around, but the heaviest burden falls on the festival's sponsors, led by the city housing department.

After inviting neighborhood organizations to set up booths, festival sponsors never sent any follow-up letters. There was no word to neighborhoods that they had been accepted, no further information about the festival.

And when a dozen East Baltimore neighborhoods told the festival organizers they wanted their booths in a contiguous area so as to make a stronger impact on visitors, their exhibits were scattered throughout the cavernous hall without any advance warning.

The financial side of the festival was equally disappointing.

So many politicians, led by City Concil President Mary Pat Clarke, wanted properties removed from the public auction of vacant houses that only 128 were offered for sale, instead of the promised 175. Of those, only 60 were sold -- for $2.7 million, including repair costs. Since the city spent close to $500,000 on the auction, that's not a very impressive gain.

We don't want to knock the Home Festival out of existence. But next year, it has to be arranged by people who know what they are doing, who follow up with information exhibitors need and who can maximize the show's potential. Moreover, the festival should be timed to conincide with some other major promotional event like the Downtown Show open house, which this year was held two weeks earlier.

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