More than a million visitors were expected to land in Baltimore this past week to commemorate the bicentennial of the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," many of them from out of state and in need of a place to stay.
Across the city, hotels have pushed deals and patriotic specials, leaned on their staffs to memorize long lists of Star-Spangled Spectacular events, and brushed up on their own place in Baltimore history in an attempt to lure the War of 1812 buffs streaming into town.
Renee Uhlman, sales and marketing director of the Embassy Suites Baltimore Inner Harbor and the Grand Historic Venue, said the preparations were a whirlwind but also thrilling, especially as the Grand Historic building — 225 N. Charles St. — approaches its own 150-year anniversary.
Before, during and after the war — when Francis Scott Key wrote what would become the national anthem aboard a boat during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 — Freemasons played a prominent role in the city.
What is today the Grand Historic began in 1866, when the Masons laid the cornerstone for their lodge at the Charles Street site. The building would be badly damaged by fire more than once over the years, with the current structure completed in 1909 after the Great Fire of 1904.
The building was threatened again in the 1990s when the city condemned it, but it was saved in a deal with the Tremont hotel chain and restored, reopening in 2005.
The Baltimore Sun caught up with Uhlman recently to ask about the Star-Spangled Spectacular and what it has meant for business.
How did Embassy Suites and the Grand Historic Venue prepare to compete for business during the Star-Spangled Spectacular?
We offer various packages throughout the year that complement a celebration of this caliber. Our "Key to the City" package, which provides complimentary water taxi passes and discounts to local attractions and restaurants, has been a popular choice.
Can you describe the in-house and staffing logistics you've worked through to make sure guests feel well-placed downtown during their stays?
The staff has been busy preparing for our guest arrivals, ensuring we are aware of and can speak to all of the activities this weekend. Our culinary team is ready to kick off their days with our Embassy Suites complimentary made-to-order breakfast and will welcome them back at the end of the day with the complimentary evening reception. The Embassy Suites Baltimore Inner Harbor and Grand Historic Venue are located in the center of it all. Our guests will be able to enjoy a location convenient to every event during the Star-Spangled Spectacular 200. The Charm City Circulator is located just outside of our door and connects our guests to all points of interest in the city.
What do events like the Sailabration two years ago and the Spectacular mean for business and Baltimore's power to attract tourists?
We are thrilled to be a part of events like Sailabration and Star-Spangled Spectacular that showcase Baltimore on a national level. It is exciting to welcome guests from all over the country to our great city. Big events are a great asset to Baltimore's businesses and demonstrate to the world that this city is a great host to thousands and thousands of tourists. These events also encourage locals and residents to get out and explore our hometown.
How has the bicentennial renewed interest in the Grand Historic Venue's own links back through Baltimore's history?
Many Freemasons played important roles in the War of 1812, including Gen. Samuel Smith [who led Baltimore's defenses].. Our guests have always enjoyed reading through the historical timeline exhibit on display, and we expect to see an increase in interest as guests travel here to participate in commemorating this monumental event in our history. This celebration of the 200th anniversary is very special for us as we look forward to celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Grand Historic Venue in 2016.
What's your perfect afternoon in Baltimore when you're not working?
I love Baltimore! We have such a beautiful city. My perfect afternoon would include spending time in our world-famous Inner Harbor. I'd also walk up North Charles Street to enjoy the culture, quaint shops and restaurants of the Mount Vernon area. I have become a true fan of the neighborhood that is home to the Grand Historic Venue.
Title: Director of sales and marketing, Embassy Suites Baltimore Downtown and Grand Historic Venue
Birthplace: Camden, N.J.
Education: Some college
Family: Husband, Gary, and 8-year-old daughter, Emily