A midnight dreary nevermore

Super Bowl Xxv

January 26, 2001|By Martin O'Malley

THE ST. LOUIS Chamber of Commerce determined that appearing in the Super Bowl last year provided the equivalent of $344 million in television exposure for the city.

Everywhere I go in Baltimore, I see and hear that retailers and restaurants are doing a booming business as a result of the Ravens' drive to the Super Bowl. And travel agents and ticket brokers are struggling to keep up with demand as people with means search for ways to get into Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.

However, I think the greatest value of the past few weeks -- the greatest gift the Ravens have given us -- is something more fundamental than the dollars earned or number of times Baltimore is mentioned on the year's most-watched television program. At its most basic level, this is an opportunity to change not just how Baltimore is seen, but what Baltimore is.

Doing better

Baltimore spent years shrouded in self-doubt. Our city was resigned to the notion that nothing could be done about our toughest problems. Crime, our schools, declining neighborhoods, unemployment -- it was all beyond our control.

But last year, we began to see we could do better. The number of murders fell below 300 for the first time since the 1980s. Test scores went up in our schools. Renewed confidence and private investment made the sight of cranes and scaffolding a common feature along our streets for the first time in many years. Although doubts persisted, Baltimore began to believe.

Then the Ravens came along and showed us anything -- everything -- is possible. Their success left us no alternative to faith. They gave us the confidence to continue on our promising course and gave the nation reason to believe we would succeed.

At precisely the right moment, the Ravens went from the cellar to the Super Bowl, on an ethic of refusing to lose and never quitting until they found a way to win. The Ravens' perseverance, grit and will to succeed captured the lost spirit of our city. And it's not lost any more. This team symbolizes what our city can and should be.

The rest of the nation also is starting to see Baltimore in a different light. On Monday, CNN anchor Bernard Shaw introduced a segment on our massive Ravens rally by saying: "Win or lose, the Super Bowl appearance is a sign of Baltimore's renewal." A few weeks earlier, the New York Times hailed our reduction in crime. Before that, an industry magazine, in an article headlined "Baltimore Bounces Back," wrote that Baltimore is "on its way to becoming one of the best harbor towns in North America."

Coming back

On Tuesday, I traveled to New York -- ground zero for our nation's finance and media industries -- to spread the word about Baltimore's comeback.

The biggest surprise on my trip was that, to a large extent, the people I met already knew what was happening here. And although we still have a way to go before Baltimore is all that we know it can be, the Ravens' success has helped us crystallize Baltimore's comeback into one, defining moment.

I'm not sure that St. Louis or Baltimore can accurately measure, in dollar terms, the value of having a team appear in the Super Bowl.

But I do know that, on Monday, private investors, led by Willard Hackerman, announced they will break ground on Baltimore's first major downtown office building in a decade.

I do know that yesterday, the Port of Baltimore announced the biggest deal in its long history.

And I do know that the Baltimore region now leads the nation in increasing home values -- home resale prices went up by 24.8 percent last quarter. This growth was driven largely by demand in Baltimore City, which saw a 46 percent increase in home sales in the last reported month.

Although you cannot put a price on hope, and you can't place a value on momentum, the Ravens have given us back our self-respect -- our pride in Baltimore, this place we call home. They've made us certain we will succeed, and people here -- and, increasingly, across the nation -- are willing to wager that our city's stock will continue to rise.

The signs of Baltimore's resurgence are everywhere -- including this week, in Tampa.

Martin O'Malley is mayor of Baltimore City.

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