Whitbread race event sails through Annapolis storm Residents protest, but liquor board OKs license to sell beer

March 19, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

With less than six weeks before Whitbread Round the World sails into local waters, event organizers have navigated some unexpectedly stormy waters to bring the prestigious international race to Annapolis.

First, Whitbread Chesapeake officials were dismayed to discover last month that the annual boat show would compete against their four-day event, which will begin April 30.

Then, several downtown residents packed two city liquor board hearings to oppose what they described as a noisy beer party-carnival that officials were proposing for Annapolis.

Yesterday, after much debate, heckling and name-calling, the board voted 3-2 to grant a license to sell beer at Whitbread Village, at the end of the City Dock.

The recent flare-ups regarding Whitbread -- a race that could bring several thousand visitors to this historic sailing town -- have some city officials worried about their ability to attract high-caliber events.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event that we're hoping might be twice-in-a-lifetime," said Susan K. Zellers, the city's economic development director. "Whitbread's going to come back here based on the wind and the skippers. Without food and beverages to give them, is that a positive experience? It isn't. We have to show them Annapolis can host a high-class event like this.

"The frustration of it is that it's been more of a hurdle to bring the race here than [Whitbread officials] understood it would be."

Economic concerns

The concerns are based on the economic benefits the race offers port cities.

Officials are estimating that about 500,000 people will attend the two-week Whitbread celebration that will start in Baltimore on April 22.

With international media coverage, the Whitbread spotlight will focus on Annapolis when the nine race boats stop by April 30 before continuing on to La Rochelle, France, on May 3.

Some residents of the historic district are distressed by the dTC prospect of music, alcohol and thousands of visitors invading their streets.

Combined with the Spring Boat Show, the Whitbread celebration could bring this city of about 35,000 to a standstill and create a logistical nightmare for hotels, marinas, parking lots and residents.

That's why a beer party is the last thing the city needs, downtown residents said yesterday.

They shouted, "What lease? What lease?" at the liquor board when commissioners discussed a City Dock lease for the Whitbread Village site, which the city council has yet to approve.

"I don't think a liquor license should be granted for a beer bash no matter how fine the cause My best wishes to Whitbread," said resident Ted Grier.

'Downtown into a mall'

"There's a great intent by some people to turn my downtown into a mall," said Jim Vance, a vocal defender of the historic district, which he said has "become a venue for events that makes it less and less hospitable to those who live here."

For that concern, "we've been denigrated and branded as whiners," said resident Kathleen Knower.

Those complaints brought a sharp rebuke yesterday from Whitbread supporters.

"This is not a beer party," said Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, who helped bring the race to Annapolis. "It is an insult, especially to the hundreds of people who worked to bring honor and prestige to this city, to suggest that."

Ted Ruegg of the Marine Trade Association of Maryland said the residents' concerns are unfounded.

"This is a yacht race, not a tractor pull," Ruegg said.

In the end, weary Whitbread Chesapeake and city officials, who helped woo the coveted race to Maryland, breathed a sigh of relief.

"Certainly, these two hearings haven't been easy," said Lee Tawney, secretary for Whitbread Chesapeake. "There are some people who are opposed to any kind of activity like this, not just this one, but any kind of festival activity in the City Dock area.

"They have the right to voice that disagreement, but we are not in the business of creating a carnival in Annapolis. We are trying to create a Wimbledon-like event."

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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