Ringing in that downtown revenue

Ravens' big game on New Year's Eve

December 29, 2006|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

On the one hand, Baltimore has its Ravens playing in perhaps their biggest game of the season. On the other, it's New Year's Eve, one of downtown's busiest nights of the year.

Between the two, one thing is certain: This city has something of a situation on its hands.

For the glass-half-empties, this intersection of football and fireworks means a gridlock spectacular, a bumper- riding, brake-grinding sea of cars that might not clear Pratt and Light until Presidents Day.

But for downtown merchants and boosters, it's one heckuva way to ring out a year. And they have just one thing to say: Bring it on.

"It's a carnival atmosphere on game days; throw in New Year's Eve and it's a real party," said Downtown Partnership spokesman Mike Evitts. "We know most people who live downtown live here because they like that there are so many things going on. They enjoy the energy of the city. This Sunday is a perfect example."

The NFL upped the ante on what was going to be a busy day anyway when it pushed the Ravens' game against the Buffalo Bills - a game with home-field playoff implications - to 4:15 p.m. from 1 p.m.

Now those 70,000 fans will be pouring out of the stadium just as an expected crowd of about 100,000 begins filling downtown for New Year's Eve events at the Inner Harbor.

That is holiday music to the ears of Baltimore tourism officials.

"It's just going to make the city very busy, which is great," said Nancy Hinds, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "On a cold winter night, it's what you want. It's like Christmas all over again."

The Hyatt Regency, a long football toss from both the stadium and the water, could be ground zero for this happy collision.

"We're not freaking out over here," said Linda Wilcox, the hotel's director of sales. "In our location, we love that much activity on the Inner Harbor, as long as everyone's spending money."

Fans' marathon

At Mothers Federal Hill Grille, owner Kelly Rather knows it's going to be one crazy night. Either crazy good or crazy bad, but definitely nuts. The restaurant's New Year's party starts at 9 p.m. - just as their Ravens viewing party wraps.

"The last time we had a New Year's game, some people treated it as a marathon," she said. "They went all the way from tailgating here straight through to the 9 a.m. New Year's Day brunch. I don't know how they did it."

In any case, Rather knows the night will go better for her if she opts out of the traffic circus.

"Personally," she said, "I'm getting a hotel room."

Smart revelers will follow Rather's lead. If not by checking into the Not Driving Home Inn, then by taking public transportation. Those who choose to take the car anyway would be wise to pack a little extra patience.

"Expect delays," said city Transportation Department spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes. "You're not going to zoom in and zoom out, in other words."

Traffic tactics

To ease the logjam, city officials have a few strategies planned:

Russell Street will be open in both directions after the game - so unlike after other recent games, people will be able to use the street to get in and out of town.

Dozens of officers will be guiding cars through the thick of the downtown area and "strictly" (that's the Transportation Department's word for it) enforcing parking and traffic laws.

Intersection blockers - now official pariahs thanks to Baltimore's new "don't block the box" campaign - might find themselves singing "Auld Lang Syne" and the blues with $90 tickets and points on their driving record.

Barnes promises that tow trucks will be getting a workout all day, challenging those feeling festive enough to park, how shall we say, inventively.

"I think parking is going to be a nightmare," Rather said. "It's a nightmare on football games anyway and a nightmare on New Year's Eve anyway. I can't even imagine."

But Evitts thinks Baltimore has what it takes to, in a matter of hours, pull off cheers for its football team and toasts for the coming year.

"This town's creative. People will figure out a way to do both," he said. "It's a nice problem to have."

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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