Church group gives city rain check on convention

`Another casualty' of Sept. 11 attacks

reschedule expected

November 30, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Organizers of what would have been one of Baltimore's largest conventions ever have pulled out of a summer meeting here, saying it would not be appropriate to call on Washington and New York for financial support in light of the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11.

The Church of God in Christ Auxiliaries in Ministry had been expected to draw 25,000 people to Baltimore between July 1 and July 6. Instead, the group will hold its meeting in Indianapolis.

"We like Baltimore a lot," Bishop J.W. Macklin, chairman of the Hayward, Calif.-based group, said yesterday. "We look forward to coming to Baltimore very soon. This is obviously not a good time. This is not a cancellation; it's a postponement."

Baltimore officials said they hope to reschedule the meeting in Baltimore quickly, perhaps as soon as 2003.

"This is another casualty of the 9-11 events," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "We can certainly understand their reluctance to ask for money from cities that have experienced such tragedy. ... They have expressed explicitly that we will now work on 2003 to 2005 to see which is the best."

In a Nov. 26 letter written to the visitors association, Macklin wrote that a convention of the magnitude planned for Baltimore would require additional support from Washington and New York - urban centers with a high concentration of the group's churches.

"Our executive staff believed, however, that in view of the unfortunate events that had befallen these areas, it would not be proper, appropriate or in good taste to solicit funds from churches and cities yet reeling from the aftermath of such a terrible tragedy," he wrote.

The meeting was to have had an estimated economic impact of $46.7 million, but hospitality industry experts always debate the accuracy of such projections.

Armstrong said the terrorist attacks initially prompted cancellation of five conventions totaling 10,600 people. All but one of those conventions, a group of about 700, are completing the booking of new dates, he said.

A second religious convention, the Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship, still plans to come to Baltimore from July 8 to 12 with about 20,000 people and is promoting the event on its Web site.

"We're still on our way," said Mary Ann Williams, international director of the New Orleans-based group, who was in town yesterday as part of a program to train volunteers for the meeting.

That convention will be the largest in the city in at least 10 years, according to Armstrong. However, the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine has scheduled its convention in Baltimore in 2005 and is expected to attract 30,000 people.

Religious conferences offer significant economic impact for a city because people who attend spend a lot of money and stay longer than many people who attend other meetings, according to DeWayne Woodring, executive director of the Religious Conference Management Association.

The religious market is so large that it holds generates 2 1/2 times more meetings than business groups, representing an estimated $8.3 billion in spending in the United States each year, he has said.

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