Exuberant host awaits Ravens Westminster: The site for Baltimore's training camp welcomes the return of the NFL -- and with it the economic boost the team's four-week visit promises.

July 15, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

WESTMINSTER -- It's the middle of a Wednesday in July, and Main Street looks and feels like a lazy summer day in Smalltown, USA. A breeze cools the warm sunshine that bathes the narrow, tree-lined streets. Only the sound of slow-moving cars and honking horns pierces the calm.

Harry Sirinakis sees this scene turned upside down.

The Ravens are about to make Westminster their training camp home for the next month. Sirinakis, the owner of Harry's Main Street, a family restaurant in the heart of town, sees an accompanying invasion of consumers armed with appetites. He sees Westminster becoming the sight of a four-week party. He sees business, which normally slows to a crawl this time of year, possibly booming.

When rookies take the field at Western Maryland College tomorrow morning, it will mark Baltimore's first NFL training camp practice in 13 years. It also will mark a historic return to Westminster, where the Baltimore Colts last trained in 1971. That year, the Colts ended a 16-year run at the college.

Sirinakis looks at the rebirth of the NFL in his hometown in two ways. As a fan, he will enjoy watching his kids go crazy over pro football in their backyard, just as their father did 30 years ago. And as the owner of Harry's, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Sirinakis is excited about the prospects of hungry fans coming into his place for a bite. In droves. For a month.

The Ravens and the Carroll County Tourism Office estimate that about 2,000 fans will come to the college on weekdays to get their first look at their new team. The crowd is expected to swell to about 4,000 on weekends.

Fans looking to eat, drink and shop can either walk into town from the nearby practice fields or use shuttle buses provided by the city and county.

"I can't imagine that many people coming into town, but anytime you bring 4,000 here, I'll take my chances that 40 percent of them will either walk into or past the restaurant," Sirinakis said. "July and August are my two slowest months. Everything we take in will be a wonderful perk in the middle of summer.

"I remember when the old Colts would come into the restaurant and my father would call me and tell me they were here. This is like a rejuvenation of my youth, something I can pass on to my kids."

Walk into Harry's, and you feel the football folklore. Autographed pictures of old Colts hang on the walls. Artie Donovan still comes in now and then and devours a handful of hot dogs. Back in the training camp days when Donovan played, the Colts would be seen all over town in the evenings.

The game has changed. Instead of staying in dorms, the players will take up 95 percent of the college-owned Comfort Inn, just west of campus. And on a typical night, the Ravens players will have barely an hour before curfew to hit the town.

Rick Nave, the manager of Johansson's, a restaurant-sports bar on Main Street, said he hopes to see some Ravens bellying up to the bar. He will introduce Ravens specials on his menu, and plans to stick some uniformed football mannequins on the Main Street sidewalk outside to attract visitors. He can cram up to 1,000 people into the upstairs restaurant and the downstairs bar combined.

"I get goose bumps every time I think about [training camp]," said Nave.

Downtown Westminster will be dressed in black, purple and gold for the occasion. Banners welcoming the team will be hung across Main Street.

The Greater Westminster Development Corp., which represents the city's 400 businesses, has created the Ravens Welcoming Committee, a 15-member group.

"People have a sense of what the Colts meant up here, and the Ravens seem to be very popular locally," said Doug Mathias, the GWDC's executive director. "Nobody can get a handle on how many people will come out. We know the busy weekends will be in July before their preseason games start [Aug. 3]."

While the daily downtown population grows, the college, a small liberal arts school with the Catoctin Mountains looming in its postcard background, figures to be bursting at its seams.

For one, the Ravens aren't the only camp in town. When Western Maryland was awarded a one-year deal with the team two months ago, the school already had contracted about 50 summer camps. During Ravens camp the school will hold about 10 summer camps, ranging from wrestling to basketball to soccer to cheerleading.

"Squeezing the Ravens in to work with all of the other existing contractual camps was our biggest problem," said Barry Bosley, the school's facilities coordinator, who has had to create makeshift field space for outdoor camps. "There's been some negative impact, but, for most part, the camps have been very receptive to working with us. Everyone is excited that they are here."

Parking was another headache Bosley had to circumvent. Only 700 spaces exist on campus, which will be off-limits to fans driving to see the Ravens. Bosley has secured nearly 1,300 spaces just off campus, about a four-block walk from the practice fields.

Think the college will be getting its share of free publicity? In addition to football fans and summer campers -- and all of the prospective students in that group -- about 1,500 cyclists taking part in the Cycle Across Maryland tour will stop in Westminster on July 25.

"We couldn't buy this kind of exposure," said Dr. Robert Chambers, the college president.

Pub Date: 7/15/96

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