City lands its largest convention ever

SunSpot Staff

The Baltimore region will play host to its largest convention ever in 2006, with 50,000 members of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc.'s Congress of Christian Education meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center.

The organization, scheduled to meet June 18-24, 2006, will use more than 25,000 hotel rooms over 50 hotels and generate more than $41 million in direct spending, city officials said today.

The convention, founded in 1880, is the nation's oldest and largest African-American religious organization, with 7.5 million members. It also has members in Africa, Canada, Germany and the Caribbean.

Baltimore beat out Detroit for the 2006 session.

"The impact of this convention will be felt throughout the region, not just in Baltimore," said Mayor Martin O'Malley, noting that hotel rooms also will be utilized in Towson, Hunt Valley and at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Downtown Baltimore has about 6,600 hotel rooms.

"It's a win-win for everyone," O'Malley said.

The organization, which brought 26,000 members to Baltimore for five days in 1990, will occupy all of the Baltimore Convention Center. Attendees will also have classes at local high schools during the convention.

"The economic benefits of the National Baptist Convention will be tremendous for the region," said Leslie R. Doggett, president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "Their attendees historically stay in a city six to seven days."

According to the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus in Washington, the average stay for a convention nationally is 3.1 days, Doggett said. "This means they will be spending more money than a typical convention group."

City officials also praised the help of local churches who worked to bring the National Baptist Convention to Baltimore, including the Rev. Dr. Charles E. Coger, pastor of Mount Ararat Baptist Church in Northwest Baltimore, and Hughetta Whitaker, the former president of the organization's state congress who works with Reverend Coger.

"Baltimore's hotels also deserve recognition because we couldn't have secured the bid without their help," Doggett added. Fifty hotels will be used to house convention-goers, she said. "The hotels came to the table and worked closely with BACVA to make their rates competitive."

Based in Nashville, Tenn., the National Baptist Convention USA Inc.'s president is the Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw, pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia. The Congress of Christian Education is among 10 auxiliaries of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc.

"We are really excited about this," Coger said. He said the effort to bring the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. back to Baltimore began three years ago. "We made our pitch to the national committee then, and we were told what we needed to do to fulfill the obligation."

The city learned about two weeks ago that it had been selected, he said. Doggett said BACVA received the letter of intent from the organization last week.

"This says that we have made a great impact on the organization, and everyone has done an excellent job in selling the city," Coger said.

Coger acknowledged that staging a convention in Baltimore with 50,000 members spread among 50 hotels will require meticulous planning. Convention officials expect to use at least five Baltimore high schools for the 214 classes scheduled to be held during the event, he said.

And in Detroit, where the group met this summer, attendees were ferried among locations via buses contracted from the Detroit Department of Public Transportation, Coger said. "It's a gigantic logistical effort."

Doggett said that national meetings of religious organizations are an increasingly important segment of the city's convention business because they typically meet during the summer months when hotel business is sorely needed.

Citing figures from the Religious Conference Management Association in Indianapolis, Doggett said that such organizations booked 14,000 conventions nationwide last year, serving 16 million people who generated a total of $1 billion in spending. BACVA has assigned a staff member to cultivate such business for Baltimore.

"This market is a good match for Baltimore, and we've begun to make a dent in it," Doggett said. "It's a perfect fit for what this city has."

She said that pursuing this market required some education within the city's business community. "There's always a process of opening up minds, but a lot of that happened before I came on board."

Doggett noted that members of the region's religious community have met with local officials about attracting more convention business to the city.

"There's always an education process," Doggett said. "And when you look at the figures, you realize that this business is valuable and that we have to be competitive."

Previously, the Church of God in Christ Auxiliaries in Ministry was the largest group to meet in Baltimore. More than 27,000 people attended the six-day session in July, generating about $22 million in direct spending, convention officials said.

Other recent meetings by religious organizations include the New Psalmist Baptist Church Annual Kingdom Conference this past August, with 8,000 attendees, and the Full Gospel Baptist Church's International Conference in July 2002, which brought 15,000 people to the city.

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