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Businesses anticipating major tourism boost from Star-Spangled Spectacular

As the nation's eyes turn to Baltimore for the bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812 next week, city leaders hope to capitalize on what one official called "the largest tourism event in our city's history" and the chance to showcase the city in three live national television broadcasts.

More than a million people are expected to descend on the city for the Star-Spangled Spectacular, which begins Wednesday and culminates with the 200th anniversary of the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" on Sept. 14.

Along with tall ships and Blue Angels flyovers, events will include the state's largest-ever fireworks show, a concert featuring acts such as Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers and Melissa Etheridge, and festivities at Fort McHenry, the Inner Harbor, Patterson Park and Martin State Airport.

Tens of millions of people will get a look at Baltimore and learn about its historic role in what some call the Second War of Independence through a live broadcast of the concert and pyrotechnics on PBS, and during nationally televised Ravens and Orioles games. That sort of exposure is invaluable in promoting Baltimore as a tourist destination, said Visit Baltimore CEO Tom Noonan.

"We should be on the national stage," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. "Baltimore and the citizens of Baltimore played a huge role in the history of our country. It's something we should be proud of and something other citizens — people across the country — should be aware of as well."

War of 1812 bicentennial celebrations began two years ago with the Star-Spangled Sailabration, which brought 1.54 million people to Baltimore in June 2012. While the Sailabration marked the start of the war, this year's Spectacular commemorates the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of what became the national anthem. Organizers called the 2012 event a dress rehearsal for next week's events.

The Blue Angels, the Navy's demonstration squadron of F/A-18 Hornet jets; more than a dozen tall ships; and a dozen Navy vessels will be part of the celebrations, as they were two years ago. But this time, organizers expect the festivities to have a broader reach, with cultural institutions, hotels and restaurants planning events and specials of their own, and with official events and activities scheduled at least five sites.

As in 2012, the Inner Harbor will be a main attraction for viewing and boarding tall ships, and there will be a 90-foot Ferris wheel and a festival at the harbor's West Shore Park. Ships also will dock in Fells Point and near Fort McHenry on Locust Point. The fort will be the site of a second festival village, while visitors can watch the Blue Angels take off and land from Martin State Airport in Middle River.

Next Sunday, events will extend to Patterson Park, where the Hampstead Hill festival will mark the site of the land portion of the Battle of Baltimore. The event will include re-enactments, hourly cannon firings, and performances by Gov. Martin O'Malley's Irish rock band, O'Malley's March, as well as a performance of the rock opera "1814!"

Next Saturday's fireworks show, scheduled to launch from six barges around the harbor at 9:30 p.m., will be unlike typical shows for the Fourth of July or New Year's Eve. Long Island, N.Y.-based Fireworks by Grucci will paint stars and stripes across the sky, and re-enact the bursting rockets that bombarded Fort McHenry two centuries ago.

Organizers are expecting crowds on a par with the Sailabration event of 2012, though they acknowledge attendance could be somewhat smaller because this year's event falls when school is in session, said Bill Pencek, executive director of the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission.

But they have other reasons to expect large numbers: Surveys they conducted indicate that people across the country, particularly in areas like New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, where they have marketed the event the most heavily, are increasingly aware of Baltimore's importance in the War of 1812 and the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

They also expect a large number of bus tour groups. The American Bus Association, the trade group for the bus travel industry, listed the event as the No. 1 group travel event in the U.S. and Canada this year.

"These are going to be unprecedented crowds and the largest tourism event in our city's history," predicted Noonan, likening its impact to holding a Super Bowl every day for a week.

Organizers estimated the 2012 Sailabration generated $166 million in economic activity, and they hired the same firm to again gather information to estimate attendance and spending next week, Pencek said.

Even without the Star-Spangled Spectacular, next week was already sure to be a high-profile time for the city. Not only do the Orioles — who hold first place in the American League East — have a homestand against the second-place New York Yankees, it is Yankees fans' last chance to see future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter play in Baltimore. Sunday's matchup was shifted to a night game so it could air nationally on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball."

And the Ravens will host their archrivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday in a game to be aired nationally on "Thursday Night Football" on CBS.

"It's filling the city, but when it rains it pours," said Gene-Michael Addis, general manager of the Lord Baltimore Hotel downtown. "We wish they could be at different times, but they're not. It's an outstanding opportunity."

Local businesses with fond memories of the Star-Spangled Sailabration crowds of two years ago are eager for another a lucrative opportunity. Hotels are at or near capacity from Tuesday and through the weekend, charging higher than normal rates, Noonan said.

"The city is going to be rocking," said Audrey Slade, spokeswoman for the Four Seasons Hotel in Harbor East.

The Four Seasons' Wit and Wisdom restaurant is taking advantage of its prime spot overlooking the harbor to host a ticketed event on its patio featuring unlimited food and nonalcoholic drinks, games, and beer and wine specials, along with a front-row seat for the fireworks show.

Others are offering patriotic specials, such as red-white-and-blue Jell-O shots and $18.12 buckets of National Bohemian beer at Apropoe's at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel. And a prix fixe menu with dishes bearing the names of anthem author Francis Scott Key, flag maker Mary Pickersgill and Gen. Samuel Smith, who commanded Baltimore's defenses, will be on the menu at the French Kitchen in the Lord Baltimore.

Businesses are mindful of putting their best foot forward for out-of-town visitors who might not otherwise have had a reason to visit Baltimore. The Lord Baltimore didn't raise its rates above what it might normally charge for a Yankees-Orioles series with that in mind, Addis said.

"We want them to return, not to have a one-time experience," he said.

The events and anticipated crowds might inconvenience residents living around the festival sites, but they also will have a front row seat for the events.

"Personally, I think this is one of the balances we all may make in city living," said Sean Flanagan, president of the Canton Neighborhood Association, in an email. "I think we're all taking great pride in a once-in-a-lifetime event and celebration."

City tourism officials want to show a good side of the city to national television audiences, saying it could pay dividends for years to come.

Next Saturday's concert and fireworks are expected to draw about 7 million live viewers of an episode of the PBS show "Great Performances," said Steven Schupak, chief operating officer of Maryland Public Television and one of the production's executive producers.

And they expect even more to see festival highlights on network news programs and in a video expected to be aired at major league baseball stadiums and in game broadcasts across the country next Sunday.

The national broadcasts of the Orioles and Ravens games also are expected to highlight Star-Spangled Spectacular events. Orioles greats Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson will introduce one segment that will feature Baltimore and its role in the War of 1812, Schupak said.

"This is an amazing marketing platform for us," Noonan said. "You almost can't put a value on all the free advertising we're getting out of this."

An earlier version of this incorrectly described who would be performing the rock opera "1814!"

Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

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