First Waterfront Festival set for tomorrow

County event celebrates east-side revitalization

October 01, 2004|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's first Waterfront Festival, designed to celebrate the east side's renaissance and showcase the area's potential as a tourist draw, is to be held tomorrow, but not without a splash of continuing political acrimony.

Organizers say the daylong, family-oriented event will highlight the redevelopment of older communities such as Middle River, Essex and Dundalk while underscoring the area's rich history and looking to the future.

The festival will be held on Lockheed Martin Corp. property in Middle River, where the aerospace giant is developing plans for a hotel, waterfront condominiums and shopping on a deep-water lagoon near Martin State Airport. Festival events include a boat show, sailing demonstrations, airplane and helicopter rides, flybys of such War Bird airplanes as B-17s, jazz and choral music, arts and crafts, and wine and food tastings. A fireworks display will be presented at dusk.

But a state lawmaker contends that the event is nothing more than a personal showcase for County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

"This essentially promotes Jim Smith with taxpayers' money," said Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a 7th District Republican who has taken to calling the event "Jimmyfest."

McDonough also said that corporate sponsors of the festival such as Verizon and Lockheed Martin Corp. are sometimes regulated by the county government "and what you have here is a conflict of interest." He said he is considering filing a complaint with the county ethics commission.

Smith said McDonough "must not recognize a family-based community event when it hits him in the face."

A crowd of 10,000 is anticipated, said Robert J. Barrett, director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks. Rain date is Sunday.

While admission is free, festival-goers are requested to make a donation to a fund for victims of Tropical Storm Isabel. Smith said the festival celebrates "the comeback of the east-side community, their resiliency and strength."

Local businesses, including restaurants, the county Marine Trades Association and Lockheed Martin Corp., are covering the costs or donating services for the festival, Smith has said.

Projects in the works on Baltimore County's east side include an upscale housing village on the bay and a $60 million extension of White Marsh Boulevard designed to usher in business development and more affordable housing for young families. The proposed development at the Lockheed Martin site is seen as a keystone of the east-side revitalization.

Last month, McDonough and fellow east-side Del. Richard K. Impallaria, also a Republican, persuaded a state transportation official to deny use of Martin State Airport for the festival unless they were allowed to have a political booth at the event. The plan was dropped after inquiries to the governor's office. From the beginning, festival organizers decided that no political booths would be allowed at the festival but that politicians can stroll the grounds and meet people.

While some community leaders said the county's first venture into a large festival would have been better in the spring, they say the concept is good.

"Autumn is a time for lots of other festivals, like Perry Hall, Fells Point and Parkville, so there might be some bad timing involved," said east-side community leader Jackie Nickel. But, she said, "we all want to show our support because of an overwhelming happiness over the revitalization of our communities."

The Waterfront Festival might have had a hand in the decline of another local tradition, the Essex Day Festival, which ran for 27 years. On Sept. 19, the board of directors of Essex Day resigned en masse.

"We just were not seeing new faces, either in people pitching in to help or visitors on the midway," said Robert D'Antonio, chief executive officer of the Essex Day committee and former president of the Essex-Middle River-White Marsh Chamber of Commerce.

D'Antonio said the Waterfront Festival took sponsors from Essex Day. Local leaders hope that Essex Day will be picked up next year by volunteers.

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