Before the Whitbread racing boats were even out of the harbor last spring, event planners had turned their thoughts to the 1999 Baltimore Waterfront Festival.
"We stood on the dock and said, `What are we going to do next year?' " Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion, said yesterday. "We know that we can do events that will bring people downtown. But it's challenging when you have a subject like sailing because you've got to have credible components. Without that, it's fluff."
The results of the group's brainstorming will take shape as the second annual waterfront festival April 29 to May 2. It will be bigger, taking over Rash Field in addition to the west shore of the Inner Harbor.
Last year, an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 people attended over a period of seven days. This year's shorter, four-day event, is expected to draw between 100,000 and 150,000.
One attraction will be the world's fastest sailboat, the Yellow Pages Endeavour, clocked at 46.5 knots -- 53.3 mph -- on display for the first time ever outside Australia. The boat, designed by Lindsay Cunningham of Little America's Cup catamaran fame, weighs 390 pounds and has a 40-foot mast and a spaceship style cockpit that rises out of the water when going at full speed.
This year's festival also will see the inaugural of the One Design 48 Chesapeake Grand Prix, with world-class sailors including John Bertrand, five-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist; Russell Coutts, defending America's Cup Champion from New Zealand and Olympic gold medalist; and Ken Read, reigning Match Racing World Champion.
Other activities include: sailing films, hands-on boat building for children, an action-adventure area, cooking demonstrations, sailing lessons and harbor excursions. One pavilion will display Olympic-class sailboats, rowing and canoes, with Olympic hopefuls on hand to discuss their sports. On Rash Field, the Contemporary Museum will hold an outdoor art exhibition by artists using sailcloth.
Festival sponsorships and grants have reached $165,000. Last year's budget was $135,000.
The festival idea stemmed from a visit by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to Stockholm, Sweden, several years ago, where he attended that city's waterfront festival and wondered why a similar event couldn't occur in the Inner Harbor.
"I definitely felt it was perfect for us," said Gilmore who had also seen the Stockholm event. "When you have a big gun like the Whitbread coming, you already have credibility with the sailing community."
The short-term goal of the festival is to show Volvo, which in June took over sponsorship of the race previously known as the Whitbread Round the World Race, that the region is seriously committed to again playing host to the race. Baltimore-Annapolis is vying with Newport, R.I., Charleston, S.C. and Miami for two slots for U.S. port cities for the next race.
But, long term, the festival's potential goes far beyond. Both this year and last, the event is advertised in the East Coast cities, including New York and Philadelphia. If the Volvo Ocean Race, Round the World comes in 2002, the festival could draw a million people, Gilmore said.
"I think it's already drawing from all over the East Coast," he said. "When you've got the fastest boat in the world and it's never been on display outside Australia, people will come to see it."