Too many cooks Visitor confusion: Five agencies promote city tourism -- all with inadequate budgets.

March 25, 1996

An editorial yesterday misidentified the new executive director of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. He is Carroll Armstrong, not Anthony Armstrong. The editorial also mischaracterized the mayor's relationship with Carroll Armstong. They are not long-time acquaintances, having met just twice before.

The Sun regrets the errors.

IS IT POSSIBLE that Baltimore's expanded Convention Center could be a flop?

The answer is "yes." Six months before opening, bookings are sluggish. Unless the situation can be changed, the $150 million addition may turn out to be an expensive waste of public money.

A key reason for this possibility is Baltimore City's unwillingness to spend enough money on promoting tourism. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has been far more interested in bringing in his own loyalists to the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association than making sure that a coordinated, adequately funded and tightly focused promotion push exists.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Consider the alphabet soup of duplicative efforts. In addition to BACVA, which is the main booking agent for the Convention Center, the following cooks also have their spoons in the soup: the Baltimore Office of Promotion, the Downtown Partnership, the Baltimore Development Corp. and the Mayor's Advisory Commission on Tourism, Entertainment and Culture. Granted, all of these group can claim specialized functions. But the truth of the matter is that they could be easily combined into one unit that would concentrate on aspects not dealt with by BACVA.

Then there is the matter of money. Baltimore cannot hope to reap the full benefits of its tourism potential unless a generously funded professional booking and promotion effort exists.

In BACVA's case, the mayor spent countless hours in scheming to oust its experienced executive director and board -- because he felt they were too beholden to William Donald Schaefer, the former mayor and governor. In the end, Mr. Schmoke, predictably, triumphed. He revamped the board and brought in a long-time acquaintance, Anthony Armstrong, as its new director. But his will be a Pyrrhic victory unless Mr. Armstrong -- who comes from San Diego, a California city which does not need much promotion but spends quite a bundle nonetheless -- is given the resources to produce.

There has been talk about a restaurant tax, and about creating a tourism tax district. It is time for decisive action by the mayor to find money for a serious promotion effort. Otherwise, the expanded Convention Center, rising impressively at Pratt and Sharp streets, will be a bitter symbol of grand potential unfilled.

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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