Hampden merchants move toward joining city's tourism arm

The Hampden Village Merchants Association moved closer Wednesday to joining Visit Baltimore, the city's quasi-public tourism and marketing agency.

Representatives of the two organizations met again Tuesday, said merchants association president Benn Ray.

Ray told merchants at Wednesday's monthly meeting that ideally, more than two dozen merchants must sign up in order for the association to become a member at deeply discounted rates being offered by Visit Baltimore.

The money is due by the end of June in order for merchants to be included in Visit Baltimore's fall program listings, Ray said.

Visit Baltimore last month asked the merchants association to pay a membership fee of up to $20,000 per year to join the organization.

To make the fee more palatable, Visit Baltimore officials offered to help pay for a planned skateboard park and the Hampden Hi-Fi concert series in Roosevelt Park.

The $20,000 aggregate fee translates to about $125 per member per year for the merchants association's 160 to 170 members. For the same level of membership in Visit Baltimore, individual merchants in the Hampden association would pay $650 a year each, Visit Baltimore officials said last month.

The $20,000 fee is for the top tier of services that Visit Baltimore would offer the association and its members. Ray said Wednesday that he doubted the merchants would go for the top tier and more likely would settle for a lower, $10,000 tier of services. Ray noted that the merchants association's annual budget is $20,000.

Merchants association members already pay $125 a year in membership dues. For the association to cover the cost of joining Visit Baltimore, dues would have to be doubled, Ray said in May.

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