Ravens are no bonanza, but good for the county


March 23, 1997|By Mike Burns

THE RAVENS have landed -- right back in the Western Maryland College roost, which should again give wing to the hopes of a summertime economic boost for greater Westminster.

But the greater prize of securing the year-round nest for the National Football League team has eluded Carroll County.

Owner Art Modell said the former Cleveland Browns would seek quarters closer to Baltimore for their all-year training center and company headquarters. "I don't think it will be this far out of town," he said.

It was a long shot for Carroll, a slim chance to parlay the positive experience of the new team at WMC summer camp into a long-term, year-round commitment to some available parcels of land.

There was nothing other than the WMC connection to persuade the team to locate this far away from Baltimore's Camden Yards, where it will play its home games. While Mr. Modell built a luxury complex in suburban Cleveland for the team, that center was at least in the same county and near the main airport.

In any case, the team plans to move from the temporary year-round facility in Owings Mills that was long ago the home of the Colts. Mr. Modell seemed to suggest that a new center could be built from scratch on that land.

But there's a strong feeling that the Ravens will end up with a new center near the football stadium that's being built downtown. There's space for it, and the connection to the stadium (and parking) is a natural.

But this year's summer camp -- which starts in mid-July -- had to be nailed down before spring. There was much work to be done.

The Ravens had done nothing to indicate a change of venue from last year's initial camp at the private college. They were discussing arrangements with WMC officials for several months, before announcing the five-year contract last week. The points at issue were length of contract and the physical improvements to facilities desired by the team. And that boiled down to money.

In the end, the Ravens agreed to pay two-thirds of the $250,000 cost of the projects, including construction of a new playing field, assorted improvements for locker and training rooms, and expansion of the college-owned Comfort Inn motel used for classes and to house and feed the players and staff. The college agreed to finish rebuilding of burned-out Gill Gymnasium in time for the football camp; the team has a claim on the gym for indoor practices in case of rain, which was a frequent unwelcome visitor last summer.

Western Maryland will make money on the annual four-week pro football camp, college officials insist. And the school will keep happy the dozens of sports camps and conferences that come to the Westminster campus for the summer, generating about $250,000 in gross revenues.

Moreover, the capital improvements will benefit the college the rest of the year: particularly another field (for more outdoor events) and more conference space at the motel.

Ice machines and ceiling fans

While Green Terror gridders never dreamed of having ice machines and ceiling fans in the locker room to cool off after a steamy practice session, they too will benefit from the professional players' needs.

The biggest benefit of the arrangement will continue to be name recognition and publicity for the college and for Westminster.

National sports coverage last year brought a lot of attention to the campus, which not only means more kids interested in attending Western Maryland but more groups considering holding conferences and summer camps there. We can hope the publicity also helped to explain to the public that Western Maryland College is not located in Western Maryland.

Crowds should be larger

Westminster will also prosper from the return of the Ravens, albeit with reduced expectations. Downtown merchants had expected thousands of fans daily and made appropriate preparations for the onslaught; parking lot shuttle bus fleets were readied. The overly optimistic projections did not materialize. But the draw was respectable for a first season of a team that didn't have dramatic star power. With more exposure and more fan enthusiasm after the first season in Baltimore, the crowds at WMC should be larger.

The bright side is that first-year practice watchers had few traffic problems and were favorably impressed by the informal, uncrowded event. Businesses probably learned better how to plan for the requirements of practice watchers.

There won't likely be any $3 million economic impact bonanza (as was predicted last year) but the business community stands to benefit from the longer term commitment of the Ravens to summer here. Those purple street banners purchased by the city can be re-used for a few more years.

What's in it for the Ravens? "What makes this so good and attractive for us is not the showers, locker room or playing fields," Mr. Modell said. "It is the people -- the people at the college, Carroll County and Westminster."

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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