BGE parent to sponsor stopover for ocean racers

Volvo yachts to call in '06 at Baltimore, Annapolis

February 13, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Organizers of the welcoming party for the Volvo Ocean Race now have a genial host with deep pockets to help pay for shindigs in Baltimore and Annapolis.

Constellation Energy Group, the Baltimore-based parent of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., announced yesterday that it will spend $500,000 to be the title sponsor of the April 2006 stopover, the only U.S. port-of-call in the seven-month global yacht race. The financial commitment, along with strong civic backing and logistics planning, puts preparations months ahead of the push for the 2001-2002 Volvo stopover, organizers say.

"We're well on our way," said Gregory Barnhill, chairman of the board of Ocean Race Chesapeake, the in-port committee. "This is a fantastic catalyst to help us raise additional money."

Michael Wallace, president of the Constellation Generation Group unit and a board member of Ocean Race Chesapeake, said in a statement that the company is "thrilled" to be the title sponsor and "equally proud of its role in helping to bring this prestigious sailing event back to Maryland."

Wallace, an avid sailor, said the company is pleased with the educational component being developed for the race. A Web site, with content provided by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will allow landlubbers to follow the race and learn about the scientific aspects of sailing.

The Baltimore Waterfront Festival and the Annapolis Maritime Heritage Festival are part of the 21-day Volvo stopover. The events are expected to draw more than 450,000 people, who will visit the race villages at Inner Harbor and Annapolis City Dock, where the 70-foot boats will be tied up.

The state Department of Business and Economic Development estimates that the Volvo could be worth more than $50 million to the local economy.

This is the second time in a year that Constellation Energy has given financial support to a major sporting event. Last fall, Constellation made a two-year commitment to be the title sponsor of the PGA Champions Tour tournament at Hayfields Country Club.

Malinda Small, Constellation's managing director of brand implementation, said the Volvo fits the profile of the audience the company is trying to reach, the "relentless optimizers," as business people who make high-level energy contract decisions are called.

"It made a lot of sense to step up and get involved here. It helps this region and we can use it from a business standpoint," Small said.

Baltimore and Annapolis will be the fifth of eight ports in the global race, which begins in November 2005 off the coast of Spain. The fleet is expected to arrive here from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, about April 20, 2006. The yachts are to spend a week at repair facilities in Canton before arriving at the docks near Rash Field for the waterfront festival.

The in-port race in the bay between Baltimore and Annapolis is scheduled for the weekend of April 28. On May 4, a Parade of Sail will travel 20 miles to mark the start of the Annapolis festival.

The race to Europe will restart May 7 under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in conjunction with the annual Bridge Walk.

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