'06 convention will be city's largest ever

50,000 Baptists coming for June 18-24 meeting

`It's a great day for Baltimore'

Hotels throughout area to be packed for a week

October 03, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Baltimore has landed its biggest convention ever - the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. Congress of Christian Education, which is expected to bring 50,000 people - more than the capacity of Camden Yards - to the city for a week in 2006.

The city won out over Detroit in its bid for the meeting, scheduled for June 18-24, the city's convention bureau announced yesterday. The group is expected to require more than 25,000 hotel rooms and generate $41 million in direct spending.

"It's a great day for Baltimore," said Leslie R. Doggett, the new president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "This showed teamwork with many players - the hotels, community and BACVA, and it shows when we work as a team, we can win."

The convention will fill the entire Baltimore Convention Center and require more than the 6,600 hotel rooms available in downtown Baltimore. People attending the convention are expected to fill hotels in suburbs such as Towson and Hunt Valley and at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The Baptist convention is nearly double the size of the biggest previous convention ever to come to Baltimore. That was the July gathering here of the Church of God in Christ Auxiliaries in Ministry. More than 27,000 people attended the six-day event, generating an estimated $22 million in direct spending.

The National Baptist group, like the Church of God in Christ, is largely African-American, a group that BACVA is increasingly endeavoring to attract. Yesterday, an expert in black tourism said winning the convention was a coup for the city.

"It's huge," said Gloria Herbert, associate publisher/editor of Black Meetings & Tourism Magazine, based in Winnetka, Calif., near Los Angeles. "That's really quite an accomplishment."

A consultant with the National Baptist Convention said the group had been impressed with Baltimore's effort.

"Baltimore was very persistent, very welcoming and very willing to work with us," said Yvonne Drayton, vice president of Philadelphia-based Riscoe & Associates, a meeting and conference management company. "It's a group with a lot of details and lots of logistics. It's a huge undertaking, but it's also a large boon for a city, because it has a huge economic impact."

The convention was held in Detroit this year, where spending by the 50,000 attendees was estimated at $45 million, Drayton said.

Doggett said she hopes the city's successful bid - which was more than a year in the making - will help bring additional large pieces of business.

"Success breeds success," she said. "It's a step in the process of positioning Baltimore as a city that can attract and handle the big conventions."

The announcement comes on Doggett's 24th day on the job and one day after she held her first public forum, at which she pledged a new age of accountability at the beleaguered agency. The bureau has struggled with declining bookings and a scathing review that led to the ouster in February of Carroll R. Armstrong, its then-president.

The Baptist group came to Baltimore in 1990, but has grown significantly since that meeting, which attracted about 26,000. Its conventions draw people from across the country, with a majority coming from the East Coast and Southern states.

"Anytime a convention of this magnitude is announced, it's a coup for the city," said Christopher Tompkins, director of sales and marketing at the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore, which provided BACVA with a block of 275 of its 439 rooms for use when the convention is in town.

Tompkins said he is confident that the convention will deliver the attendance and economic numbers it projects.

"What's nice about the National Baptist Convention is that they pick up their room blocks and spend money in the city, because they go out to eat and take in the attractions," said Tompkins, who has had experience with the group in a pervious job in Memphis, Tenn. "They have a very loyal following. It's not pie in the sky. They will produce."

People attending the convention hold regular jobs in a wide variety of fields, and that could help position Baltimore for other conventions and meetings, he said.

Doggett and Richard Bryant, director of national accounts, traveled to Kansas City, Mo., last month to clinch the deal. It turned out that Doggett knew the meeting and conference planner, who worked in Philadelphia when Doggett was at the U.S. Commerce Department.

Doggett also orchestrated a well-timed telephone call from Clarence T. Bishop, Mayor Martin O'Malley's chief of staff and the BACVA board chairman, during the meeting to emphasize the city's commitment.

"It wasn't a slam dunk," she said. "It required going there and doing that personal persuasion. A large part of the work was done before I got on the scene. Where I came in was at the point of closing it and saying, `We really want this, what do we need to do?'"

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