Westminster is bracing for Ravens But planners unsure just how many fans are likely to descend

'Don't know the numbers'

County predicts boost of $3 million from 4-week training camp

July 07, 1996|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

In the calm before the swarm, the Ravens Welcoming Committee awaits an invasion of spectators and fans to Westminster for the summer training camp of Baltimore's new NFL team.

The biggest problem so far is that no one knows how many visitors to expect for the daily Ravens football practices at Western Maryland College. Guesses range from 1,000 to 10,000 from officials and committee members who are trying to plan for -- and make the most of -- the team's monthlong stay.

"We don't know the numbers," said G. Melvin Mills Jr., a local businessman who heads the welcoming committee. "We are expecting 2,000 to 3,000 people a day, [but] ignorance is bliss right now."

Said Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan: "We're all expecting something, but the fact of the matter is, until we get through that first weekend, we won't be sure what. We're going to be, hopefully, prepared for that -- we have to be."

Ravens rookies arrive July 16, to be joined by veteran players three days later. The team will take up 95 percent of the college-owned Comfort Inn, just west of the campus on Route 32.

Free-admission practice sessions are scheduled every day through Aug. 15 from 9: 15 to 11: 15 a.m. and 2: 45 p.m. to 5 p.m., with no morning session Sundays. The team will be away from the campus playing exhibition games the weekends of Aug. 2 to 4 (the Philadelphia Eagles at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore) and Aug. 9 to 11 (the Giants in New York).

The committee expects the biggest crowds for the team's sessions the last two weekends in July.

"Baltimore is an NFL town just starving for a football team," Mills ,, said. "Maybe people from Washington would like to come and see what the Ravens have to offer vs. the Redskins. And take Pennsylvania: York, Hanover, Hershey and Lancaster -- we can expect visitors from all these areas. And there are Colts fans in Hagerstown, an hour away."

Said Steven C. Horn, a senior Carroll County transportation planner who looked at attendance figures for Redskin practices at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.: "The numbers are pretty high."

"And that's for Pennsylvania," he said. "This is much closer to Baltimore, and it's the inaugural season -- so it should be much, much higher."

The welcoming committee had planned a parade and perhaps a celebrity golf match, but the players' 16-hour-a day schedule precludes such activities, said Robert F. Eller, the Ravens' director of operations and information.

In explanation, Eller outlined their schedule: They report to the training room before breakfast, which is 6: 30 to 7: 30 a.m.; meetings and taping are at 8 a.m. for the morning practice, followed by more meetings and weightlifting before a one-hour lunch at noon.

The players then have an hour to go to their rooms and study the playbook or rest, he said, before reporting to the locker room at 2 p.m. for the afternoon practice.

After dinner, he said, players meet from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.; their curfew is 11 p.m.

"This is seven days a week," Eller said. "With that in mind, obviously there's really no time for players to be doing anything other than playing and getting ready."

The NFL and the players' association set the time limits for training camp at "no more than 15 days before the first preseason game," he said, so every day counts.

"This is their boot camp," said Joyce E. Muller, a committee member and public information director at the college.

Disappointed but understanding, the planning committee turned to a mundane but mandatory issue -- parking.

"There's a lot of excitement," Muller said, "but the biggest challenge the committee faces is to be sure we are providing easy access to the campus."

Campus parking will not be available, she said, because the college has a full summer program, including basketball, wrestling, science, golf, band camp, the Cycle Across Maryland annual tour and weddings.

But some 1,000 spaces will be available in town near the campus, about 500 of them on recently graded and mulched property that will become a city park, said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works. Other spaces are at West Middle School and St. John's Catholic Church, except Sundays.

Cranberry Mall on Route 140 has offered 1,200 to 1,300 parking slots that may become essential on weekends.

A major piece of good news arrived Wednesday, when Yowan learned from the governor's office that the state will provide weekend shuttle-bus service.

"That's a big, big plus," Yowan said. "It helps us out significantly." He said the city and county still want to run a shuttle to serve the college, the in-town parking -- and downtown restaurants and shops.

The training camp may boost the regional economy by more than $3 million during its four weeks, according to estimates by Carroll County's economic development office.

And the merchants intend to make the most of it, said R. Douglas Mathias, executive director of Greater Westminster Development Corp. and a welcoming-committee member.

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