Will Baltimore remain `the lacrosse center of world'?

Sport's governing body seeks room to expand after outgrowing Hopkins home

May 31, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

You get a clue to the power of lacrosse in Baltimore these days just driving into the city past a billboard for lacrosse equipment manufacturer STX that shouts: "Lacrosse fans, welcome home."

But even as the city is overflowing with lacrosse lovers in town for the NCAA Division I championship game today, the sport's governing body is searching for a new home, here or possibly elsewhere.

The organization and its Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame have outgrown their space on the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus and must find a place to expand.

"Our first look is to see if there's some potential solution in the region. I think we'd love to stay in Maryland, in the Greater Baltimore area," said Steve Stenersen, executive director of US Lacrosse, the national governing body for the sport.

The sport is growing so much that each day new opportunities arise, he said.

"People are talking about do we need a national training center for the sport and a campus," Stenersen said. "There's always a chance of leaving Baltimore. I would be surprised if we didn't get some people from outside Maryland interested."

The organization needs to more than double its space, to at least 25,000 square feet, to get through the next decade, Stenersen said.

"The organization has grown more than anyone could have imagined," he said. "Hopkins has been wonderful. We've got a nice facility, but it's too small."

US Lacrosse has hired MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services LLC of Lutherville to help search for space and hopes to have a plan by September, Stenersen said.

The pressure is on for the city to make sure that US Lacrosse keeps Baltimore as its home and doesn't flee to Syracuse or Long Island, N.Y., other hotbeds of lacrosse culture.

"We are active in this matter and are confident that the lacrosse facilities will stay in the city," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp.

There are many reasons for the city to want to keep the lacrosse headquarters here.

$9 million impact

Consider that the NCAA lacrosse championships held at M&T Bank Stadium last year racked up an estimated $9 million in economic impact and that this weekend's games are expected to bring in millions again.

Although the championships, which include the Division II and Division III finals, are bound for Philadelphia in 2005 and 2006, Baltimore will bid next summer to recapture them in 2007 and 2008.

Crowds at the games over this holiday weekend are expected to top last year's numbers, said Martin Schwartz, tournament director for LAX4Baltimore, the local organizing committee for the 2003 and 2004 championships.

As of Friday, more than 40,000 all-session tickets, covering all three days of games, had been sold, exceeding the 37,900 sold for the final last year. Schwartz expects 45,000 tickets will be sold in all.

"I think what it means is that we've turned this into an event," Schwartz said. "People want to be here."

The city gains high visibility and valuable boasting power from the lacrosse weekends, he noted.

"This is the place where the largest crowds have ever experienced lacrosse nationwide," he said. "Maybe, in fact, this is the lacrosse center of the world. We think it is."

Not to mention that the upscale demographics of the typical lacrosse fan provide a good payoff to Inner Harbor hotels, bars, restaurants and shops.

Destination diversity

Tourism officials also hope that the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame will stay.

"It adds to the diversity of the destination," said Nancy Hinds, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "It gives another reason for people to go beyond the Inner Harbor and into our historic neighborhoods."

Maryland also happens to be home to STX Inc., one of the largest manufacturers of lacrosse equipment in the world, as well as to more than a dozen regional and national lacrosse equipment retailers. Those Maryland-based manufacturers and providers sell an estimated $17 million to $18 million worth of lacrosse equipment each year across the nation.

Lacrosse, the oldest sport native to North America, originated with the Indians, who played it during religious ceremonies and as a way of settling tribal disputes.

It has evolved into a far more passionate and social sport than many others and is the fastest-growing team sport in the United States, according to US Lacrosse officials.

US Lacrosse evolved from the merger of several national organizations, one of which was the Lacrosse Foundation, which had its first headquarters in Johns Hopkins' athletic center in 1966, Stenersen said.

Early growing pains

Space became a problem, and the foundation twice built at its site at 113 W. University Parkway.

The first 5,000-square-foot space, completed in 1990, was equal parts offices, museum and hall of fame, and auditorium, but it was a scaled-down version of the 12,000-square-foot building the group had planned because of fund-raising issues.

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