Reviving City Fair could be tonic for city

This Just In...

February 18, 2000|By DAN RODRICKS

REMEMBER WHEN they stuffed the Baltimore City Fair under the Jones Falls Expressway? Real nice. Few things were as depressing as the sight of the fair, symbol of the rebirth of the old downtown, crammed under a federal highway, right about where it becomes a giant exit ramp, here behind the brick edifice natives still call the Sunpapers. City Fair memory: Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine performing under the traffic noise of the interstate. Those were the days, my friends.

We knew they had to end.

In its heyday in the 1970s, the fair had been staged in a much nicer place -- along the rim of the Inner Harbor. It revived city spirits after the riots of 1968. It celebrated neighborhoods and community organizations. It created Big Mo for Inner Harbor redevelopment. In fact, as the years went by, as Harborplace and other attractions opened, as Rash Field was diminished as a public space for large events, the City Fair came to be seen as archaic. Once a big, happy municipal festival in a prominent location, it was relegated to the Baltimore backstretch during the party-pooper Schmoke years. The attitude among movers and shakers was this: A zillion people flock to the Inner Harbor all year long. Who needs the City Fair anymore?

As if its only purpose was to seed the Inner Harbor for the Rouse Co.

Despite a better location and relative success in its final year -- near Memorial Stadium, with paid attendance of 114,000 over three days -- the fair was put out of its misery in 1992.

"You often hear people say that the City Fair became a victim of its own success," says Cathy Pugh, a public relations consultant now in her first term as a Baltimore City Council member. "Well, I don't know if that's a good reason to stop something."

It probably wasn't.

The City Fair was more than just a catalyst for redevelopment of the Inner Harbor; that's how the suits perceived it. Regular people enjoyed the fair because it was a celebration of city life, with neighborhood booths and the full involvement of community organizations and cultural institutions, a place where you could get a sense of who your neighbors across town were. Mix in some ethnic food, some rides and amusements for the kids, and you had a party. People went home feeling good about the city.

Maybe it's time again.

Cathy Pugh checked Mayor Martin O'Malley for enthusiasm and got his thumbs-up. So the other day she filed a council resolution calling for the re-establishment of the City Fair in 2001. "There's renewed enthusiasm resounding throughout Baltimore," Pugh says. "And bringing back the City Fair would fit right in with that and of course, I'm a marketing person, and I like fun."

She's a good one to have on the case.

Camden Yards, Lake Montebello, Druid Hill Park have been suggested as sites, Pugh says. Why not Patterson Park? Why not Rash Field and Key Highway?

I'm all for it -- especially if the emphasis is on neighborhoods. And let's include all those ethnic groups that have their own festivals in dozens of different locations -- some well outside the city now -- throughout the year. Pack all that together with some carnival rides, some decent entertainment, keep the prices affordable for families, and you have City Fair Redux. You have wonderful symbolism for a new administration in City Hall.

The Baltimore Book Festival, the Flower Mart, the Stone Soul Picnic, AFRAM, Artscape, the Jones Falls Celebration -- all of these are tonics for Baltimoreans. The fair would be one more. The city needs all the tonic it can get.

Marathon idea floated

And how about a Baltimore City Marathon? Pugh says she's working on that idea, too, along with another running enthusiast, one Catherine Curran O'Malley.

Speaking of the Flower Mart, it's scheduled for May 17 in MountVernon. The Women's Civic League won't be running the show this year. Carol Purcell and a nonprofit board of directors, operating as Flower Mart at Mt. Vernon Inc., are in charge. Purcell says kids from Catholic schools will sell flowers by the Washington Monument, and the mart will stay open until 8 p.m. Artists, artisans and antiques dealers interested in setting up for the day should call Penny Watts at 410-662-4149.

"Homicide" plot irks actor

Yaphet Kotto says he's upset producers of that extravagantly overrated "Homicide: The Movie," killed off Lt. Giardello, a character he perceived as a positive African-American male role model. OK. But if he didn't like the script, why did he play the part? And note to Kotto: Maybe, for truly positive impact, you could get a part in new show or movie that doesn't involve guns and murder, drug addicts, dysfunctional families, psychotic freaks and suicidal cops.

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