No peeking allowed at new visitor center

Cover-up: Floor-to-ceiling drape hides displays being readied for May 7 opening.

On The Promenade

March 26, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's long-delayed visitor center has gone under cover - now cloaked in a floor-to-ceiling drape designed to heighten local excitement in the days leading up to its May 7 opening.

Installation of the aqua-colored, vinyl "shroud of mystery" was completed yesterday to conceal displays being assembled within the $4.5 million center at the north end of the Inner Harbor, off Light Street.

"This is the beginning of the countdown to the opening," said Leslie R. Doggett, president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "We want to build up anticipation and excitement. People are already asking questions."

The May debut coincides with a banner weekend for tourism events in the city, including the first-ever Volvo Waterfront Concert Series, the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Rash Field, the Preakness Parade, a visit from the Spanish tall ship Juan Sebastian de Elcano - which will be docked at the Inner Harbor's west wall - the Maryland Film Festival and a weekend of Orioles vs. Cleveland Indians baseball.

To help christen the center with its distinctive wavy roof, about 70 meeting planners, tour operators and members of the national media have been invited to bring a guest and come to Baltimore for a long weekend. Among their activities will be a "Hollywood on the Harbor" tour, featuring movie landmarks, and another tour featuring a progressive lunch through Baltimore neighborhoods.

The weekend will also include activities targeted at local residents.

"I really think that the visitor center is such a great opportunity for Baltimore to state to the world that it's going through a renaissance," Doggett said. "So many people don't know what we have to offer. We see this as the launch of more than a year of openings."

She noted the expansion and renovations at the Maryland Science Center to open Memorial Day weekend, the opening of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture late next year or early in 2006 and the expansion of the National Aquarium set for spring 2005.

"It was just a great way for us to take an aggressive position in marketing and repositioning the city," Doggett said.

Tourism officials are counting on the 8,000-square-foot glass-walled structure to boost the number of tourists, estimated at about 12 million a year, and to extend their stays.

Visitors will be able to buy attraction tickets, make hotel reservations and study restaurant menus in one stop. The center also will have a theater that can accommodate 50 to 70 people.

Until the center opens, tourists will continue to learn about Baltimore and Maryland at a converted construction trailer that holds a handful of visitors.

This past summer marked the city's fifth tourist season in the cramped, temporary quarters on an empty stretch of the Inner Harbor between the Light Street Pavilion and Maryland Science Center.

Weather-related problems and delays in getting materials thwarted plans to get the center open before now.

"It is like the stars have aligned so that everything has come together perfectly for us to showcase what we have," Doggett said yesterday.

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