Cleveland group ponders whether it can duplicate Baltimore's tourist appeal Ohio city's leaders visits attractions


To the millions of tourists who visit Baltimore each year, the city has its allure. But can the success of the city's celebrated Inner Harbor and other high-profile tourist attractions be duplicated in, say, Cleveland?

A group of 50 business and civic leaders from the Ohio city spent yesterday here trying to find out.

"We're going to a city similar to Cleveland that has accomplished a revitalization of its downtown area," said Judith M. Ruggie, director of Leadership Cleveland. She brought about 50 members of the 1991 class of Cleveland's 15-year-old leadership development program to Baltimore Monday.

Ms. Ruggie and her group view Baltimore and Cleveland as communities with analogous histories. Both were home to old-line industry and shipping. Both have struggled to adjust to the nation's evolution from a manufacturing- to a service-based economy.

Along the way, the cities' downtown regions suffered as the switch from manufacturing left empty warehouses and unkempt space that was once home to thriving industry.

Baltimore has transformed much of that scene into a thriving Inner Harbor of restaurants, shops and trendy boutiques.

Cleveland hopes to work a similar transformation with its North Coast Harbor, a project on Lake Erie's shore.

Cleveland is planning an aquarium, two museums and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for its harbor. The city also plans to build a new stadium for the Indians baseball team. The delegation came here looking for tips on how to get the plans from the drawing boards to actual construction.

The group visited the Enterprise Nehemiah Development Inc. housing project going up in the Penn-North community in West Baltimore. Then the visitors waded through the mud to see the construction at the new stadium at Camden Yards.

They ate crab cakes at the Rusty Scupper restaurant in Federal Hill and discussed public-private partnerships with Baltimore developer David Cordish of the Cordish Co. Lastly, they toured the National Aquarium.

Speakers at each stop along the way discussed development dos and don'ts with the visitors.

"The success here is not readily transferable" to Cleveland, said Mr. Cordish.

In order to succeed, Cleveland must overcome the absence of federal funds that Baltimore was able to tap to help in the early stages of rebuilding its downtown, Mr. Cordish said.

Private investment will only follow when public money has begun to illustrate positive changes in the redevelopment, Mr. Cordish said.

The group's most difficult task would be convincing the voting public and city officials that the investment in a new-and-improved downtown that focuses on tourism as its primary industry will be money well spent.

"You got to sell them on the position that, in due course, it's going to pay for itself and spin off more dollars," he said. "Try to sell that vision."

Most of all, the Cleveland visitors learned to "be cautious," said Jay C. Ehle, who is chairman of that city's port authority.

Their hosts "showed us a lot of the things we are talking about doing," Mr. Ehle said, but Cleveland must remember to "grow slowly and deliberately. It's taken a long time to do this in Baltimore."

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