Oh, the revenue, if city knew how to market decadence

This Just In...

March 14, 2003|By DAN RODRICKS

IF I DIDN'T KNOW better -- that Lionel Barrymore has been taking a dirt nap since 1954 and that the character he played in It's A Wonderful Life was obviously fictional -- I'd say Henry Potter was pulling strings and trying to turn this town into the next Pottersville.

Godfrey Daniel, what is happening? I feel like I got some bad liquor at Nick's place, or that Sheldon Leonard just gave me a convincer to the jaw.

Girls Gone Wild at Bohager's, and 10 of them cited by Bert The Cop for flashing for the cameras. Slots proposed for Pimlico, and the racetrack ownership demanding that they be allowed to serve booze until 4 o'clock in the morning so that gamblers get all liquored up and put plenty of money into the machines.

What's next? Strip clubs on Baltimore Street?

I'm telling you, this lovely old city, home of the Flower Mart and Lady Baltimore Cake, will become a mecca of decadence -- Sodom on the Patapsco -- if someone doesn't stand up and affirm the moral order.

Of course, that's one way of looking at it -- with alarm and priggish concern.

The other way to look at all this -- and more fun, to be honest -- is with bemused cynicism. And I don't mind if I do.

Lots of people have been knocking Carroll Armstrong for being pretty much a highly paid, do-nothing director of the city's convention bureau, hired several years ago by Kurt Schmoke, an expert at hiring do-nothing administrators in his sleepy days as mayor.

I guess Armstrong deserves knocks for subpar hotel and convention bookings. That he's been hired to be a consultant to the very same convention bureau he supposedly ran so poorly is one of those really wacky things that happen around here from time to time -- like Bob Ehrlich giving Clarence Mitchell IV a $92,000 make-work job or a former Chrysler corporate attorney the keys to the Maryland environment -- and I always suspect it's something in the drinking water affecting the intellectual faculties of the suits who make these decisions.

But, anyway, as I was saying ... I'm looking at all these other tourism-related concepts -- casino-style gambling, Girls Gone Wild video production at Bohager's -- and I'm thinking: Where has this guy Armstrong been? How did he miss this?

If you want to knock this guy, knock him for not thinking outside the tourism box. I mean, luring the International Society of Cereal Chemists to Baltimore is swell, but think of the revenue we could generate with the kind of seedy and prurient entertainment George Bailey discovered during his Christmas Eve nightmare in Pottersville.

Baltimore needs to become known as a party town and, I'm sorry, it's just not on the map yet.

It's not a city that never sleeps. It's a city that nods off.

Sometimes I think we're a little too ambivalent about all this, reluctant to step into the big party and get mussed up, the way cities like Las Vegas, New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa (home of the rowdy Gasparilla Festival) do. You know what I mean?

Look at The Block.

Someone has been trying to put The Block in a crate and send it out to Pulaski Highway for years. It hasn't happened. In fact, it still appears to be one of the busiest commercial strips in downtown Baltimore, and Christmas morning, on my way to church, I noticed the place was open for business. It's alive 24-7. Do we tell conventioneers about this? No, we tell them about the BMA!

We've had Hooters in Harborplace for years, and has the city taken full advantage of that?

I think not. No Women of Hooters Festivals, no Women of Hooters in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. We bring the Clydesdales to the Preakness when we should bring the Chippendales.

Spring break comes and the college boys around here -- and the ones from up north -- paint their hand-me-down SUVs with expressions like, "Senoritas, mambo with me," and they load up with kegs and suntan oil and they drive to Florida. That ship of fools sails right past Baltimore.

If we ever go for it -- the way some developers, club owners, radio station promoters, racetrack owners, the governor and all the other vice hustlers want us to -- those college kids could bring millions of daddy's dollars right here to the balmy shores of the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Basin. The weather usually isn't too bad. We have waterfront. We have bars. We might have slots some day, and 4 a.m. closings.

For a few days each spring, Charm City could easily turn into a raucous, revenue-producing nightmare.

Think of it: all of Baltimore becomes the Preakness infield for a full week every spring. Glorious! Goodbye Flower Mart, hello MTV's Jackass.

One of these days, we're just going to have to go for it.

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