Baseball strike leaves empty feeling

August 14, 1994|By Howard Libit and Eric Siegel | Howard Libit and Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writers Peter Jensen and Elaine Tassy contributed to this article.

The seats at Oriole Park aren't the only things that will be empty during the baseball strike.

Cash registers at downtown businesses, the pockets of hourly stadium workers and bartenders, even state and city coffers also will be more barren.

"We're expecting a drastic decline in business," said Andy Abramowitz, a clerk at American Baseball Classics, a baseball memorabilia shop in Harborplace.

At the Orioles Bar in the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, bartender Rob Ehasz was equally downbeat.

"As a tipped employee, it really destroys you," he said.

A study by the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development after the Orioles inaugural season at Camden Yards in 1992 determined that the team's home games generated a statewide total of $226 million in gross sales, which includes items such as tickets, concessions, souvenirs, gifts, parking, transportation, lodging and other travel-related incidentals.

With 25 home games remaining when the strike began Friday -- or about 30 percent of the season's dates -- state businesses could lose $70 million if play is not resumed this year.

The state study also concluded that expenditures by fans and visiting teams generated $9.4 million in state tax revenues and $6.4 million in local tax receipts, including money from personal income, and hotel, admissions and parking taxes.

A similar study by Baltimore's Department of Planning estimated that fans spent more than $52 million outside the stadium -- most of it in downtown stores, restaurants and bars before and after games.

The strike's effects reach as far as Western Maryland, where a nonprofit organization raises money transporting fans to Oriole Park.

Since Oriole Park opened, the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, which runs steam excursion trains between Cumberland and Frostburg, has run several trains each year from Cumberland to Camden Yards. The trips account for about a third of the organization's annual operating funds, said marketing and special events coordinator Margy Pein.

The railroad has yet to run four of its scheduled eight "baseball trains" -- including one that had been scheduled to carry 670 fans today.

"Financially, it's devastating for us. We have no way to recoup this revenue," Ms. Pein said.

Among those who planned to make the trip: a group of about 30 Rivesville, W.Va., Little Leaguers and their parents.

"It's disappointing. It was a pretty big thing to these kids," said James Hershman, league commissioner.

Mr. Hershman, a power plant operator who has never been to Oriole Park, had planned to make the trip with his wife and three children, and had set aside money for souvenirs and hot dogs.

"I even planned part of my vacation around this," he said.

Those who sell items to fans such as Mr. Hershman -- and clean up the stadium after they leave -- are among those who will be hit hardest.

For a sellout crowd, ARA Services employs about 1,000 people selling food, drinks and merchandise, said David Flaherty, public relations director for the Philadelphia-based company.

Except for a few managers, most are paid by the hour or commission.

"If there are no fans, they won't be coming in," he said.

Another company, Harry M. Stevens Maintenance Services, has

about 275 to 300 hourly workers cleaning up the stadium, said general manager Rick Elbon. Mr. Elbon said the company was trying to find work for employees at other buildings it services, but added, "Obviously, we can't do that for everybody."

One of those workers, Michael Davis, said he makes about $150 for a seven-game homestand. Mr. Davis, who lives with his mother in East Baltimore, said his only other income comes from a job as a parking attendant at Memorial Stadium during games of Baltimore's CFL team.

"Right now, I can't make it up. It's just a loss," he said of his missed wages from the strike.

It is people such as Mr. Davis who are a "primary concern" of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke during the strike.

"I worry about the people who work at Oriole Park, who don't have any options, who don't have a lot of savings, for whom this is going to be a serious economic setback," Mr. Schmoke said at his weekly news conference on Thursday.

City revenues will take a direct hit from the strike, too.

For example, the city gets one-fifth of the money from the 10 percent admissions tax on Orioles tickets, with the other four-fifths going to the state.

Last year, the Orioles paid $4.2 million in admissions taxes, or roughly $50,000 per home date. The city's share was about $10,000 per game.

Also, the city owns two parking garages and two lots near Oriole Park. Officials estimate the loss of revenue at $7,285 per game.

For each home date that's called off, then, the city stands to lose $17,285 in direct income -- or about enough to pay the salary and benefits to a rookie police officer for six months.

Another loser: the Maryland Mass Transit Administration, whose revenue will drop an estimated $7,000 per game because of a falloff in customers taking light rail to the stadium.

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