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Ravens won't hold training camp in Westminster

Westminster, the Carroll County town that dresses up in purple each August, became one of the early casualties of the NFL lockout Wednesday when the Ravens cancelled this year's training camp at McDaniel College.

Citing the uncertainty surrounding the lockout and the potential for a reduced training period, the Ravens announced they will practice at their Owings Mills facility this summer.

While Westminster figures to take a hit of as much as $2.2 million without training camp, the big losers appear to be Ravens fans. Their only chance to see the team in action before the regular season will be preseason games or open workouts at M&T Bank Stadium.

"If they have training camp at the Castle, how many folks are going to be able to get there?" asked Stan Ruchlewicz, Westminster's economic development administrator. "Nobody. I think the fans will bear the brunt of the loss … then some of the local businesses."

The team's lease agreement with Baltimore County does not allow for fans to watch practice at the facility. In a statement released by the team Wednesday, Ravens president Dick Cass said that roads around the complex could not handle the traffic safely and the facility does not have enough parking space.

Last summer, McDaniel drew an estimated 112,000 fans to Ravens' practices. At $20 per person, Ruchlewicz estimated an economic impact of over $2 million.

Not the least of that is the loss incurred by Best Western Hotel and Conference Center, adjacent to the college. The Ravens filled all 101 rooms at the hotel for four weeks in each of the past 15 summers since the team moved here from Cleveland.

"It's a significant loss," said Cammy Hipp, general manager for Best Western. "Only time will tell [if it can be made up]. At this point, I highly doubt that. You're talking about a hotel that is supply and demand. If your inventory is closed and releases, and you have 30 days [to replace it] … it's hard."

Still, Hipp said she recognized the Ravens were "definitely trying" to be fair after missing several deadlines on extending their contract with McDaniel College.

Ravens vice president Kevin Byrne said the team set cutoff dates for May and June that were missed because of the lockout. When the labor situation remained unchanged through Tuesday's meeting of NFL owners, the Ravens reached the end of their wait.

"We kept dragging out feet in hopes we would get some firm dates when the lockout would be over," he said. Now, "there is hopeful news, but without firm dates, we couldn't ask the hotel or McDaniel to wait any longer."

There was one more consideration — a competitive one, at that — for the Ravens. Because it takes two full days to relocate the team's entire operation to Westminster and two more to bring it back, the Ravens were in jeopardy of losing practice or workout time to logistics.

"If all of this [training camp] is shortened football-wise, we can't afford to lose four days," Byrne said. "When there is likely to be rules on when you can have players in, you don't want to give up any days football-wise. We could have guys here for three days and tell them they can't get into the weight room for two," because the equipment would be in transition.

The spinoff is that the team will try to take at least one practice, if not more, to M&T, and all practices will be free to the public.

Cass said it was the Ravens' intention to return to Westminster in 2012.

Ethan Seidel, vice president of administration and finance at McDaniel, said he appreciated the Ravens' updates through the long process. Once the NFL has resolved its labor issues and has a framework for the season, he expects to renew negotiations with the Ravens on a contract for 2012 and beyond.

An 18-game, regular-season schedule, for instance, would take a bite out of training camp. A 16-game regular season would likely permit four weeks of camp.

Either way, Seidel said, the intangibles outweigh the financial aspect of hosting the Ravens.

"The non-monetary benefits are way greater than the direct monetary benefits," he said. "We treat the Ravens just as any other user of the facilities. They're just using space the same as anyone else. The real benefit is their presence."

Ruchlewicz said neither he nor Seidel was surprised by Wednesday's decision.

"I'm bummed," Ruchlewicz said. "But considering the way all the negotiations are going with the teams and the players, the longer it started dragging into summer, the handwriting was on the wall. Ethan and I talk, and we pretty much knew it was coming."

The news didn't come as a surprise to many in town.

"I already kind of knew," said Sarah Redding, assistant general manager of popular eatery Harry's Main Street Grille. "I drove by the college. The fences aren't decorated. The city hasn't done anything about getting the Ravens flags out and things like that. I knew it. I still don't want to admit it, but I knew it."

Redding said fervor for the Ravens won't wane, but local physician David Salinger believes the changes around town will be noticeable.

"I think it's going to have an effect on tourism, not a great one, but an effect," he said. "And on the general emotional atmosphere. Most of the people around here are Ravens fans and it's a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with your team."

Rafael's, a bar on main street not far from the fields at McDaniel College, does stand to lose a significant percentage of its business. But bartender Kristy Harrison said the mood around town will take the biggest hit; those pulling up to the seats around her bar have already begun lamenting the missed chance to see NFL stars.

"Disappointing is the big word we use about it," she said. "It's sad. It really is."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

xcxcbranch@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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