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March for Freddie Gray could create traffic issues on Saturday

Protesting about the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, a group of people affect traffic near the Inner Harbor in Baltimore City.

Saturday's march for Freddie Gray from the west side to City Hall could cause traffic problems and prompted at least one event cancellation, while other businesses and event organizers are monitoring the situation.

Given the sensitivity of the situation — Gray died from injuries sustained while in police custody, igniting widespread outrage over another black man dying after an encounter with law enforcement — officials are not talking about inconvenience but rather those grieving.

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"Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Freddie Gray as they deal with this very personal tragedy," Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, said in a statement.

While Noonan said the city had yet to reach peak tourism season, it promises to be a busy weekend downtown. He said his organization received some questions from convention planners, but that no meetings or events had been canceled.

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The Orioles began a nine-game homestand Friday night, launching a weekend series with the always crowd-drawing Boston Red Sox. Tuesday will bring the 1,500 attendees to the Food Safety Summit to the Convention Center, joined the following day by the same number to the Door and Hardware Institute's convention.

The Orioles said they will monitor the situation and alert ticket-holders to any street closures on the team website and through social media.

"We have received inquiries from a handful of fans expressing concern about whether getting to the ballpark or their ballpark experience once here will be impacted," spokesman Greg Bader said.

Bader said the Orioles "encourage fans coming to the games this weekend and throughout the homestand to be mindful of any potential street closures that may impact their travel time."

The protest, billed as a "massive march and national rally against the brutality of the Baltimore Police Department," is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at Gilmor Homes, where Gray was arrested April 12. He emerged from a police wagon with a severed spine and crushed voice box, dying one week later.

The marchers plan to head for City Hall at 4 p.m., where a rally is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

The 20th annual City Paper Brew Fest at Power Plant Live on Saturday afternoon was postponed because of traffic concerns. Refunds will be issued automatically by Missiontix, and a new date will be announced when available, said Renee Mutchnik, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, which owns the City Paper.

At least two events planned for the coming days also were canceled out of a sense that the city should remain focused on Gray, whose family will hold a wake for him on Sunday and a funeral and burial on Monday.

A planning session on Saturday for the Light City Baltimore art and music festival was postponed until May "out of respect and understanding of the current, difficult situation facing the Baltimore City community," according to the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced this week that she was canceling a fundraiser planned for the Hippodrome Theatre next week. Tickets for the event ranged from $500 to $6,000.

"If ever there was a time for me — and for all of us — to turn our full and undivided attention toward Baltimore City, our communities, and our citizens, and away from campaigns and politics, that time is now," Rawlings-Blake wrote in an email to supporters.

Other larger-scale events, such as conventions, would be difficult to cancel or change at this point, especially as it is impossible to predict what the coming weeks have in store, with multiple officials continuing to investigate Gray's death. It is unclear when, for example, there will be an announcement on the results of the autopsy or whether any charges will be filed against officers involved in the arrest.

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Julie Walter, director of events for the Door and Hardware Institute, said the group will continue to discuss with convention center representatives any possible impact while they are in town from Wednesday through Friday.

But, she said, "It sounds like things are pretty well under control."

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