The National Urban League, a century-old civil rights organization, said Monday it would hold its 2016 conference in Baltimore, bringing more than 13,000 attendees and a multimillion-dollar economic ripple to the city next August.

The decision to bring the organization's biggest event to Baltimore may provide a boost to the city's battered image. It's the largest such announcement since the civil unrest following the April death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody.


It won't be the city's biggest convention. That remains Otakon, which brings up to 35,000 to the city, and is expected back again next August before moving to Washington in 2017.

But the Urban League brings a rich cultural history, in addition to the potential for the conference-goers and public to rub shoulders with business and political elite, possibly even presidential contenders, said Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, the city's convention and visitors bureau.

"It's a big deal on several levels," Noonan said. "Nationally, it's a historically important conference, a true feather in the cap any city wants to have. And it got turned around pretty quickly."

The conference, scheduled for the first week in August, is expected to fill 6,000 hotel room nights and produce $4.2 million in economic impact.

Larger conventions are generally booked years out, but Baltimore had the space available next summer though no specific group canceled on the city, Noonan said. He said there were event cancellations in the 10 days following Gray's arrest, but no one since has broken a commitment for a citywide conference.

Baltimore is still on target for a record year with 29 citywide conventions, 214,000 hotel room nights booked and an estimated economic impact of $138 million, officials said.

While the convention business remains strong, the city's tourism has suffered somewhat, with visitors from suburbs and neighboring states staying away. And Noonan said it's unknown how many groups won't consider Baltimore in coming years or how many small groups canceled at individual hotels.

Noonan credited the Greater Baltimore Urban League and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake with landing the National Urban League.

The group condemned the violence following the Freddie Gray protests and issued its own recommendations for police reform.

The Urban League's head called the conference announcement timely.

"We are especially excited to bring the 2016 conference to Baltimore — a city with a long and rich civil rights history and much to offer our attendees and members," said Marc Morial, the organization's president and CEO, in a statement. "We are committed to partnering with our affiliate, the Greater Baltimore Urban League, Mayor Rawlings-Blake and the entire city of Baltimore to empower residents and make a notable impact in the local community."

There will be opportunities for professional and civic engagement, business development and networking during the four-day conference, the group said. Political, business and community leaders are expected to speak on health, business, education and justice. Free events for the community will also be planned.

"We are honored to host the National Urban League's 2016 conference in Baltimore," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "The impact of the conference goes well beyond the economic benefits to Baltimore as it allows us to showcase the city's rich cultural history while also providing opportunities for residents and community members to engage with a cross-section of leaders to discuss relevant and current issues affecting urban communities."