Winter downtown: a cool destination Inner Harbor set for skaters, shoppers, sailors and sculptors

November 29, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Young Jason Marshall looked across the vast, icy skating rink at the Inner Harbor yesterday and lost his nerve for taking a glide across the frozen surface.

Even though he and his mother, Lucille, had been waiting for weeks to skate at one of Baltimore's most popular downtown winter attractions, at this point the idea somehow seemed better than the reality.

"It's too cold," Jason told his mother. "If I fall, I'll bust my head open."

But after 10 minutes of haggling, the 9-year-old gave in and took to the rink at Rash Field, which opened for the season yesterday. He fell a few times, but his head received not a scratch.

City leaders, vendors and merchants hope that families in Baltimore and nearby areas come to some of the dozens of events -- known as Baltimore on Ice -- to be held during the next few months at the Inner Harbor.

Baltimore on Ice has evolved from a few events in 1992 to the dozens of events scheduled this year, the biggest campaign ever, organizers said.

The events have breathed life into the Inner Harbor, one of the city's most important economic machines, during the winter months.

"People tend to think that the summer's over and there is nothing to do downtown," said Tracy Baskerville, public information officer for the Baltimore Office of Promotion, which produces the events. "But hopefully, now they will go shopping and eat at restaurants downtown."

For years, the Inner Harbor's success was measured by the sales rung up during the summer and spring. But that is beginning to change.

"Every time you bring someone into town, it helps the bottom line," said Nancy Rizzo, director of sales for the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel. "We think it is a pretty terrific campaign. It has always done well with us."

Because the Baltimore on Ice campaign has been on a tight budget, no economic impact study has been done, said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion. But he said the campaign gives the city and downtown businesses a much-needed shot in the arm.

Officials expect the ice rink, which will be open daily through March 8, to draw more than 40,000 skaters this season.

Admission is $5, and skates rent for $2.

Many of the events are free, but merchants and vendors benefit from the increased flow of people downtown.

December's highlights include the lighting of the Washington Monument, accompanied by fireworks, and the lighted-boat parade, which showcases decorated sailboats and other vessels the Inner Harbor and Fells Point.

The new year will be ushered in by Baltimore's New Year's Eve Extravaganza, one of the most popular events of Baltimore on Ice. The family-oriented celebration will include outdoor entertainment through the evening, with fireworks heralding the arrival of 1998.

The four-day Winterfest in January will include a sled dog exhibition, a beach party on ice and an ice-carving competition.

In February, Black History Month will be observed as storytellers perform weekly at the Top of the World Observation Level and Museum.

The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and the Baltimore Office of Promotion all provide funds for advertising and expenses.

"All three of us play a different role," Gilmore said.

The Convention and Visitors Association and local hotels put together advertising campaigns aimed at drawing visitors from Philadelphia, New York City, Washington and elsewhere.

The Downtown Partnership's job is to lure people from the Baltimore area. The promotion office oversees the events.

Pub Date: 11/29/97

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