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Military Bowl is expected to draw a crowd, and economic bonus, to Annapolis

After five years in the nation's capital, the Military Bowl is staking out a future in Annapolis, and city leaders are hoping to cash in on the cachet of hosting a nationally televised college football bowl game.

With events including a flyover by a B-25 bomber and the landing of a parachute team at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, bowl organizers hope Friday's game between the University of Maryland and Marshall University (W.Va.) taps the military pride of Annapolis — home of the Naval Academy and plenty of Navy retirees. Previously, the bowl was held at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington.

But if organizers see red, white and blue, city officials, restaurants and hotels are seeing green, anticipating an economic boost of $1 million to $2 million in a week that's traditionally a post-holiday bust.

Three of the city's five major hotels are already sold out and hotels around Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport could get a bump, too, said Connie Del Signore, president and CEO of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau. Though official host hotels — where the teams are staying — are in Washington, bowl officials, broadcast crews from ESPN and fans are choosing to stay in Annapolis, she said.

"The town of Annapolis, after the game, is going to be rocking," said bowl director Steve Beck. "You can imagine all those people looking for something to do after the game. Annapolis, Main Street, the historic nature of it all is the perfect setting."

City officials couldn't agree more, and hope festivities, including a Main Street parade with Medal of Honor winners, marching bands and the Budweiser Clydesdales will draw visitors who will be enchanted by the town.

"They'll come, they'll see what a beautiful place Annapolis is and they'll come back," said Mayor Mike Pantelides.

The bowl game festivities will also bring their share of workday headaches, including road closings.

"We welcome the visitors, but it messes up the traffic terribly, especially for the people who live and work here," said Jenny Alderman, a salesperson for York Flowers on State Circle. "It really just causes us a headache. We don't have parking enough without the visitors."

"I anticipate traffic will be difficult through the entire downtown area during" the parade, said Cpl. Amy Miguez of the Annapolis Police Department. She said police would have extra officers on hand and the city would extend shuttle bus service to "help alleviate [traffic] at least for people who want to get in and see some of the parade and things like that."

The bowl's effect pales in comparison to Annapolis' fall boat shows — which span two weekends and bring about $50 million to the city. But the Military Bowl will be on the scale of the Naval Academy's commissioning week in May, which generates about $2 million in economic impact.

The Military Bowl has a seven-year contract with the Naval Academy Athletic Association to hold the game in Annapolis, but there wasn't a lot of time for Annapolis to prepare for this first year. The agreement to move the game from RFK to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was announced in late May.

Some businesses weren't sure what to make of the bowl game at first, said Frank DiVenti, director of promotions for the visitors bureau. Annapolis has hosted many special events, but never a college football bowl game.

"We gathered the troops, as they say, and said, 'This is coming,'" DiVenti recalled.

The bureau encouraged hotels, restaurants and stores to offer Military Bowl promotions and enlisted businesses to help donate game tickets to military families. By now, everyone's on board, DiVenti said.

The bowl comes at a fortunate time for local businesses, which normally have a lull after Christmas and before New Year's and the start of the General Assembly session on Jan. 8.

In the runup to Christmas, downtown has been hopping with shoppers and diners. "Right after Christmas, that drops to nothing," Del Signore said. "For hotels in particular to have any kind of business on the 27th or 28th of December is really great."

"Hopefully, it will be just like a good Navy game," said Megan Moore, proprietor of Easy Street Gallery about a block off State Circle. "We're always busy on Navy games. Hopefully it's a different crowd, too, because for a lot of the Navy games you get the same people, and then the opposing team is where we get business, because people are coming into town. It's good for the town."

Last year's Military Bowl, with San Jose State beating Bowling Green, 29-20, drew 17,835 fans to RFK. But Beck is expecting a full stadium in Annapolis this year. The stadium officially holds 34,000, but can accommodate more. VIP suites and Touchdown Club packages were sold out the day after the Maryland-Marshall matchup was announced.

Beck didn't have an exact figure for ticket sales as of Monday, though he said it was in the "high 20" thousands, and said organizers were hoping weather would be nice enough to open up additional spectator seating on the grassy areas of the stadium. He said having two nearby teams — Maryland close by and Marshall within driving distance — points to a strong turnout. In 2010, when Maryland appeared in the bowl and defeated East Carolina, 51-20, attendance topped 38,000.

Game day will start with a private reception in the morning at the governor's mansion for Medal of Honor winners.

Public festivities include the 11 a.m. parade from downtown's City Dock, up Main Street, past the State House and to the stadium. At the stadium, a public tailgate party begins at 10 a.m., leading up to the 2:30 p.m. game kickoff. The start of the game includes the B-25 flyover, the parachute team and the National Anthem performance by 4Troops, an ensemble of veterans.

The game will wrap up around dinner time, and restaurants and shops hope football fans migrate from the stadium to downtown, West Annapolis or Eastport for postgame celebrations or consolations.

Bowl organizers are paying to rent the stadium and pay workers needed to run the game, said Chet Gladchuk, Navy's athletic director. Gladchuk said while his team will be in Texas preparing for its own bowl — the Armed Forces Bowl against Middle Tennessee State on Dec. 30 — Navy will benefit from its stadium and history being showcased to a large crowd and an ESPN audience.

"It's resonated nationally with those in the business that feel it's quite a coup for the academy to land a premier postseason event," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Joe Burris contributed to this article.

pwood@baltsun.com

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Military Bowl Activities

PARADE

A parade will step off from City Dock at 11 a.m., traveling up Main Street, around Church Circle, down College Avenue and up Bladen Street/Rowe Boulevard to the stadium. The grand marshal is Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, the top-ranking noncommissioned officer in his service. Parade participants include Medal of Honor winners, marching bands from Maryland and Marshall, Budweiser Clydesdales, youth football teams and others.

TAILGATE

A public tailgate party will be held in the blue lot of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium beginning at 10 a.m. There will be live bands and food and drink for sale.

GAME

The game features the Maryland Terrapins (7-5) and the Marshall Thundering Herd (9-4), with kickoff at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available through militarybowl.org.

ROAD CLOSURES, PARKING

Roads along the parade route will be closed 11 a.m. until 11:45 a.m. and will reopen as the parade progresses. Affected roads include Main Street, Church Circle, College Avenue and Bladen Street/Rowe Boulevard.

There will be no parking at City Dock or on Main Street from 7:30 a.m. until noon. Parking lots at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium will open at 10 a.m. Parking there must be purchased in advance. Germantown Elementary School near the stadium will offer parking starting at 8 a.m.

Parking garages are open 24 hours, including the Hillman Garage, Gotts Court Garage, Knighton Garage and Park Place Garage. There are more than 1,500 parking spaces in garages.

BUS SERVICE

In addition to the normal free Circulator route that passes all city garages, the Circulator will operate an extended route that will pick up at Park Place and travel down Taylor Avenue to the stadium and back. It will run 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. An extra Circulator bus will be in service; the goal is busses every 10 minutes.

The Annapolis Bus Co. will offer a free shuttle from the Harry S. Truman Park & Ride on Riva Road from 9 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.

FREEDOM RUN

Marine Corps veteran and runner Jamie Summerlin will run 101 miles from Sheperdstown, W.Va., to Annapolis, beginning on Thursday and arriving Friday morning. He hopes to raise $100,000 to benefit Operation Welcome Home. In 2012, he ran across the country to support veterans. He'll participate in the parade and will host a book signing at the Annapolis Running Shop on Main Street at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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