Celebration is aiming for a wider audience

May 13, 1994|By Scott Timberg | Scott Timberg,Contributing Writer

If Donna Leonard had her way, the Preakness would be as big as the Kentucky Derby.

As if to celebrate the magnitude of her ambition, 50 huge hot air balloons will lift off from the infield at the Timonium Race Course between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. today.

The winds from the Chesapeake Bay make Baltimore perfect ballooning territory, says Ms. Leonard, Preakness Celebration executive director.

"We're trying to draw in everybody, from the governor all the way down to the Boy Scouts," she says. The Boy Scouts, in fact, will take part in Bay Balloon Bash at Sandy Point State Park.

This year's celebration includes performances by beloved rock groups like the Turtles, Paul Revere and the Raiders and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.

The stars of NBC's "Homicide," Ned Beatty and Yaphet Kotto, and the show's producer, Tom Fontana, will appear as well. All three will serve as grand marshals of the annual Preakness Celebration Parade tomorrow. Mr. Beatty and Mr. Kotto will play in the golf tournament on Monday.

This year's events are aimed at a wide audience, Ms. Leonard says. "We tried to make them appeal to more demographic groups and drive tourism in the Baltimore area."

Previous celebrations have offered odd events that are now discontinued. One celebration involved the Piglet Stakes, in which squealing pigs dressed in jockey silks, named for local television anchors and media personalities, chased each other around Fells Point and Harborplace.

Horsing Around Harborplace, a variety of Preakness-related activities -- paper-clip-chain races, steno chair races -- designed to engage Baltimore's business com- munity, was another Preakness standby of years past that hasn't survived into 1994.

The hiring of a small permanent staff, Ms. Leonard says, will help Marylanders think about the Preakness all year round. "We ought to be really proud that we have an international event right here in our back yard," she says.

This year's highlights include a parade, golf tournament, a children's zoo festival and WorldFest, an enormous ethnic festival that will offer food, dress and dances from all over the world.

Ms. Leonard came to Baltimore from Washington last summer. "When I came here in August I realized there wasn't a whole lot of awareness to what the Preakness was," she says. "I think that there was a lack of promotion for tourism -- there wasn't a real strong movement."

She also credits the Mayor's Commission for Tourism, Entertainment and Culture with helping change that. The group, begun last August, has served as a clearinghouse for various ideas and helped consolidate otherwise isolated groups.

"The mayor recognized that for Baltimore to move forward in the tourist industry these groups need to communicate," she says.

"What I'm really proud of more than anything else is the amount of integration between all the groups involved [city and county chambers of commerce, businesses, the mayor and government offices]. I feel like it's becoming a big family."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.