Merchants still can't sight Ravens At camp's midpoint, hopes unfulfilled in business district

'What are these guys doing?'

Team officials say training camp agenda leaves little time

July 30, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Expectations were high when the Baltimore Ravens came to Westminster two weeks ago for the team's first summer training camp at Western Maryland College.

There was talk of thousands of fans and of the occasional player strolling into downtown Westminster between daily practices to grab a bite to eat and soak up the local atmosphere.

At the midpoint of the Ravens' monthlong camp, the reality is a bit different.

The logistics have gone smoothly, but the team's presence in town hasn't created the nonstop party atmosphere and boon for downtown businesses many had predicted.

Crowds coming to see Baltimore's new National Football League team have been smaller than expected, and local merchants say they haven't yet spotted a Raven in the Main Street business district.

"We've noticed a little increase in our business; unfortunately we have not seen any of the Ravens," said Kay D'Eugenio, who, with her husband, Tony, owns the Giulianova Italian deli on Westminster's Main Street.

Nor have there been any Ravens sightings at Johannson's Dining House either, a Main Street restaurant and pub.

"We haven't seen any players yet. Some of the coaches and [team] management have been in," said Troy Lochner, a manager at Johannson's.

Summer training camp doesn't leave the football players much free time to explore the area. Ravens officials have said that their day begins with breakfast at 6: 30 a.m. and continues for 16 hours with meetings, morning practice, weightlifting, studying the playbook, afternoon practice and evening meetings. Curfew is 11 p.m.

"What can you say when they're that busy?" asked D'Eugenio.

Romeo Valianti, a 71-year-old Westminster resident who often kept company with the Baltimore Colts when they trained at Western Maryland College from 1956 to 1971, hasn't been impressed with the Ravens' summer visit.

"What are these guys doing? Sure they have to practice, but they're not acting like they're part of the community," said Valianti, who has not attended a Ravens practice. "That's why people loved the Colts; they would come downtown, and everybody knew them."

Harry Sirinakis, owner of Harry's Main Street, a favorite Colts hangout, said business was slow the first week of training camp but picked up last week. Still, he hasn't seen a Raven.

"We've seen staff and security people and lots of fans," Sirinakis said.

R. Douglas Mathias, executive director of the Greater Westminster Development Corp. and a Ravens welcoming committee member, said the players might be getting out more often during the final two weeks of their stay in town, which ends Aug. 15.

"They're just starting to get around. And a lot of people aren't sure who they are, so it would be hard to recognize them. I know the team is really tickled to be here, and they've really appreciated the response they've gotten from the business community and the city," Mathias said.

Kevin Byrne, vice president of public relations for the Ravens, praised Western Maryland College and local officials for their efforts.

"Players don't like training camp; it's such a nonexistence," Byrne said. "But logistically, we haven't had many headaches."

He said a nice relationship is developing between fans and players.

"The fans have been polite and patient, and the players have taken time out after practice to sign autographs," Byrne said.

Although downtown business people had hoped for more Ravens-related business, Westminster and county officials says they are pleased that the summer training camp has been free of problems.

"We've had good weekend turnouts but haven't had any complaints or parking concerns," said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works and a member of the Ravens Welcoming Committee.

Carroll County tourism officials say the Ravens practice sessions drew about 5,500 people over the July 20-21 weekend and slightly fewer last weekend.

Attendance at the weekday practices has been 500 to 800. Local officials had expected as many as 2,000 spectators to show up daily.

"Considering it's a new team to a new area, the numbers are good," said Maggy MacPherson, administrator for the county's office of information and communication services.

Most visitors are from outside the county, with football fans from as far away Florida and New Jersey coming to watch practices, she said.

"People are excited and have a chance to see them, and it's generating a lot of discussion," Beyard said.

"[Ravens owner] Art Modell himself was here and made a positive comment about trying to end up with a long-term lease relationship" with the college.

The presence of professional football at Western Maryland College has brought national news media and invaluable publicity to the small liberal arts school. The New York Times and CNN have reported on the Ravens camp, and ESPN is expected to show up before the camp ends, said Don Schumaker, a spokesman for the college.

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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