If New York can rebound, why not Baltimore?

July 08, 1999|By Michael Olesker

NEW YORK -- We pulled into the Miro Parking Lot at 45th Street off Times Square and stayed for an hour and a half. The charge was $30. That is not a misprint. Then we drove downtown to Greenwich Village and found a parking lot around Lafayette and Astor, and stayed for four hours, and were delighted that the bill was only $17.

It's a great time to live in America, if you can afford it. New York lets you know this right away. Between the $30 parking lots and the $17 parking lots, there is so much money and good cheer that you almost fail to notice those shadowy nighttime figures who stumble, half-clothed, out of trash bins where they've been scrounging for other people's castoffs.

The worst news here in these palmy days is the pro basketball Knicks, who lost in the National Basketball Association Finals. My, what a tragedy. The New York city comptroller, named Hevesi, says the NBA playoffs added $77 million to the city's economy, on top of the $113 million the ball club helped generate during the regular season.

This is worth mentioning because the deep thinkers in Baltimore are apparently turning serious about a new downtown arena to attract a pro basketball team, and never mind the flip side of its economics.

Here, they play basketball in the famous Madison Square Garden. The average ticket costs $79. In Baltimore, the last time we had professional basketball, the top ticket might have cost $12, and the team had to leave town because nobody was showing up. At Madison Square Garden, in 1999, a courtside seat for the Knicks goes for $1,350. Per ticket, per game.

Somebody should mention this to those downtown planners with their cost-benefit analyses and their big dreams of a downtown rejuvenation. Would we gain a basketball team but ruin a baseball team's drawing power in the process?

The thinking is: Times change. The Baltimore where Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson and Wes Unseld dazzled rows of empty seats has given way to the beginnings of a second renaissance. Why not? New York seems to reinvent itself every 10 minutes. Why couldn't Baltimore?

We went walking here in Central Park and found ourselves surrounded by runners, hundreds of them, of every description, from angelic kids to the arteriosclerotic, wheezing old folks whose every step seemed as if it would be their last, only it never was.

Imagine, in Central Park, which the nation once learned to associate with muggers the way old-timers in Baltimore still hear the words "Leakin Park" and instinctively think of bodies in car trunks. Central Park, where the joggers are outnumbered only by those who walk their children along little pathways, who stop to have their faces sketched by artists, who snuggle with their sweethearts under shady trees, who ride the horse-drawn carriages or reach for a soft ice cream or toss a toy disc and think of tabloid newspaper headlines of Central Park muggings as some kind of ancient history.

Muggers in Central Park now? The moms pushing strollers would probably form a committee and beat the bleep out of them.

It's wonderful to see a city that has been reborn. That doesn't mean it's without its problems, and doesn't mean it's forever. It just means there's a better balance between debits and credits, which translates to a cheerier state of mind.

You noticed Baltimore public schools demoting 16 principals recently? Heck, in New York, they had to fire 47 of them the other day. You noticed that Baltimore's public schools continue to produce illiterates? Heck, in New York, a new study shows a dozen schools with less than 7 percent passing rates on standardized tests. Everybody's embarrassed because Community School District 12, in the Bronx, sent out formal commencement invitations the other day, only they were headed "Districk 12."

But this city has also learned to take delight in itself. They had the Gay Pride Parade here the other day, and thousands turned out to celebrate what once caused them to lead lives of great pain. The parade wound up downtown, where only a few blocks away there was a Greenwich Village crafts festival and an Italian festival. If this city has an unofficial slogan, it is this: Live and let live.

In Baltimore, we sometimes get so bogged down in our defeats that we forget to acknowledge our delights. We haven't got New York's glitter (or its $30 parking lot prices), but there's more money floating around than in years, which is seen in all the neighborhoods around the harbor, plus downtown real estate movement.

There's a mayor's race that will bring, at last, fresh energy into a slumbering and defeatist City Hall. The city's Artscape is approaching, traditionally one of the great weekends of the year. On such things, we build a state of mind: Take your triumphs where you can find them, and enjoy the moment.

And you wonder: If New York can turn it around, why can't Baltimore?

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