Slighting Tourism

June 19, 1995

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's power play to seize control of the board that oversees the city's tourism and convention promotional efforts sends precisely the wrong signal. It marks a giant step backward in Baltimore's attempts to compete against other cities for convention business.

The loss of Crown Central Petroleum owner Henry A. Rosenberg Jr. as chairman of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association is one this city can ill afford. He has been one of the city's biggest and most consistent boosters. By leaving Mr. Rosenberg little choice but to resign, the mayor alienated someone who has played a big role in this city. By denying BACVA independence from city government, the mayor offends business leaders and risks another economic development debacle.

And by reducing City Hall's contribution to BACVA for marketing and promoting the expanded convention center, the mayor is being unusually shortsighted. BACVA is getting $400,000 less from the city than last year. How is the group -- even after it is reconstituted as a quasi-city agency by the mayor, with new board members -- going to compete against rival cities such as Philadelphia, Washington, Cincinnati and Cleveland?

Already, BACVA is badly under-funded. Its marketing budget is $1.1 million less than Cincinnati's, $1.3 million less than Cleveland's, $2.3 million less than Washington's and $4.3 million less than Philadelphia's.

An extra $1.5 million committed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to promote the enlarged Baltimore center will help immensely. But not if the mayor continues to shortchange his own city's convention-marketing budget.

This unnecessary dispute, which the governor tried to resolve amicably, will be used by rival cities competing for convention business. It has given Baltimore a black eye among convention marketers. It is now up to the mayor to demonstrate a new level of commitment to tourism and convention business. Tens of millions of dollars flow into Baltimore from these conventions. The success or failure of the city's marketing effort is now in Mr. Schmoke's hands.

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