Annapolis braces for a week of the multitudes Whitbread, boat show, Bay Bridge walk coincide

April 26, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

On any given day, historic, 18th-century Annapolis offers maybe 2,000 coveted public parking spaces for its visitors.

Beginning Thursday, more than 200,000 people are expected to try to squeeze their cars into those spaces when the boats of the Whitbread Round the World Race tie up on one side of the harbor, the Spring Boat Show opens on the other side and the crowd attracted by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Walk hits town.

How to handle the potential crowd has occupied the attention of dozens of local, state and federal agencies for more than a year, planning intensely for a logistical nightmare that could make or break this popular tourist city as a venue for big-time attractions.

They have arranged for satellite parking lots and intricate shuttle services, and are calling in scores of extra police officers from local departments on overtime to direct traffic and provide security.

"Grrrrrridlock," warns Sgt. Philip Turner of the Annapolis police, trilling the R's for added emphasis. "We're talking major gridlock here. If people want my advice, don't even try coming downtown in your own vehicle."

Turner should know.

He has coordinated the department's security and traffic details for special events for 14 years. And this week, frankly, is going to be a lulu, the 25-year veteran says.

The U.S. Sail and Powerboat shows, usually the largest tourist events in Annapolis, draw more than 60,000 on two fall weekends. But city officials are expecting more than 200,000 when the nine Whitbread racers and their entourages show up in Annapolis on Thursday. Add to that the 6,000 expected for the Spring Boat Show, which also runs this weekend, and the spillover from the 40,000 to 60,000 people expected on the fringes of the city May 3 for the Bay Bridge Walk.

The crowd for the bridge walk could be especially large with people trying to watch the start of the next-to-last leg of the Whitbread, a grueling, 31,600-nautical-mile race, near a buoy north of the bridge.

City Dock will be closed to most traffic for the four days the Whitbread boats are in town, and Main Street will be closed to traffic at 7 p.m. Saturday for the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce fireworks display at 9 p.m.

Getting around will be all but impossible, police say.

Which might explain why Turner has gone to 17 Whitbread planning meetings this month and figures to work 18-hour days from Thursday to May 3. And why he has been fielding dozens of telephone calls.

Some angry, such as: "How could you let all these people come to our city?"

Some supportive: "This is great for business."

Some frantic: "How in the world am I going to get around?"

Just ask Evelyn Naranjo.

Planning her 23-year-old daughter's marriage Saturday at the Naval Academy Chapel has been like "managing a war," the Rockville mother says.

"We reserved the chapel 14 months ago," Naranjo says. "Then a year ago, the Marriott called and asked me if I would like to change the wedding date because of this big regatta that was coming to town that was going to be a tremendous mess. Well, that was impossible."

So Naranjo is finding some way to cope.

To help the wedding party and 140 guests make it from the academy to the reception at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront -- a one-mile trip that takes five minutes on a normal day -- she has provided intricate maps drawn by Turner.

Because there is no way a limousine could negotiate downtown traffic or find parking, the bride and groom decided on a more rustic and quaint horse-and-buggy ride to the reception.

"You either laugh or cry, I'm trying to laugh," Naranjo says. "But you know, it's worth it. Not everyone can get married at the Naval Academy."

If it gets really bad, they might get a police escort.

People who live downtown and have nowhere to flee simply are '' bracing themselves.

"The biggest thing you do is, you don't move your car," says Stuart Drayton, a downtown resident who is excited about the Whitbread but is preparing for the traffic headaches.

"You definitely need at least three reasons before you go anywhere," Drayton says.

Plenty of parking will be available at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium from Thursday to Saturday for Whitbread and boat show spectators. Shuttles will take people downtown.

On May 3, Whitbread and boat show parking will move to lots on Riva Road, southwest of the city, as participants in the bridge walk take over the stadium.

City streets, airways and waterways will be full of police officers patrolling, monitoring activity in helicopters, directing traffic and writing tickets for overzealous tourists.

"Look at it this way," Turner says. "We're dealing with a situation that will tax every system the city and county has to offer. We're taking thousands of 21st-century vehicles and putting it into an 18th-century city.

"It's not going to be easy."

Pub Date: 4/26/98

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