Disappointing Home Festival

May 04, 1994

The city housing department's plan to auction off 175 vacant houses and hold a home festival with dozens of neighborhood booths was a splendid idea. Too bad it wasn't better executed.

So many houses were removed from the sale because of political interference by officials, spearheaded by City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, that the original 175 was reduced to 123.

Of those, only 60 were sold for a total of $2.7 million, which includes the properties' estimated rehabilitation costs. Since some successful bidders are unlikely to close on their deals, the city ended up spending close to $500,000 on the auction for relatively little gain.

This wouldn't be so dismal if the rest of the recent festival had been organized better. Unfortunately, the city bungled a splendid opportunity to showcase its neighborhoods and many real estate-related private companies.

It was estimated that 4,000 people visited the festival's exhibits April 23 at the Convention Center. Perhaps, perhaps not. What was evident to any observer, however, was that dozens of neighborhood organizations never showed up.

Who's to blame? Many organizations, clearly, but also the city.

After inviting community groups to participate, festival organizers in many cases failed to follow up with further information. Neighborhood groups were not told that they had been accepted and were not apprised of arrangements for setting up exhibits. Those which had enough enthusiasm and self-initiative showed up, others did not.

We also hear a perplexing report from East Baltimore. A dozen community groups active in the Patterson Park area had asked to have their independent booths located in a contiguous area so as to make a stronger impression at the festival. Without any advance notice, they were scattered throughout the cavernous exhibit hall.

"If they sort it out, there is something there," one disappointed activist said of the festival and its prospects in future years.

The home festival is a good idea and we think it should be continued. But not on this kind of confused basis.

The festival needs a new group of planners next year, people who are bent on success and do things any normal exhibit sponsor would do. Moreover, the festival should be a part of some other major event, such as the Downtown Show open house which was held two weeks earlier.

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