Under cover, "in" place is infield A DAY AT THE RACES


Pimlico is generally a pretty casual place. But there will be a decidedly upscale look today in the corporate tent village in the Pimlico infield.

Some 3,000 invited guests of various corporations will be roaming the village, dining on everything from Chesapeake Bay crab cakes with a lemon caper tartar sauce to jeweled fruit tarts and rum balls.

Eighteen corporations and organizations are sponsoring tents in the village, which is fenced off and features its own posh portable bathrooms, betting windows and entertainment.

The party, catered by Bethesda-based Ridgewell's Caterer, begins in late morning and runs until late afternoon. Each tent has its own menu, but the accent is on crab meat, shrimp, fresh fruit and lavish desserts. And, of course, free drinks.

Signet Bank says the thousands of dollars it will spend on its tent is worth the investment.

"It's for rewarding customers, providing a benefit for those customers who have relations with us," said Gail Sanders, director of public affairs for the bank. "It also provides a forum for exchanging business ideas. And it allows us to meet new prospects to the bank."

For example, many banking prospects "come by and can talk to our commercial bankers," said Celene Czajkowski, Signet's community affairs officer.

The state of Maryland, despite its budget crunch of the past two years, will have a tent again this year, albeit a scaled-back one. The state Department of Economic and Employment Development is sharing two tents with Pimlico, resulting in a 40 percent reduction in costs to taxpayers, according to Marilyn J. Corbett, a DEED spokeswoman.

"I think the important point to make is that we are one of only three states who have an opportunity to market both nationally and internationally for a very short period of time," Corbett said, referring to the three states that hold Triple Crown races.

"We have to take advantage of this opportunity and make the most of it," she said.

The state will invite corporate and financial executives, some federal officials and representatives of national corporate site-selection companies, as well as several state bureaucrats and legislators, Corbett said.

Also serving as tent hosts will be Chrysler, the major sponsor of the Triple Crown races, Maryland Casualty Co. and The Baltimore Sun. Others buying a space include Pepsi, AT&T; and GTECH Corp., the company that runs the Maryland lottery.

The companies will pay between $7,000 and $30,000 for food and drinks for an average of about 160 guests at each tent. The companies also pay a fee to Pimlico.

"Part of the reason we participate in these things is to try to maintain a positive economic atmosphere," said Peggy D. Mulloy, spokeswoman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., which will have a tent. "You try to invest in events that will help the economy in the Baltimore area."

BG&E; has invited a variety of guests, including local executives from some of the utility's biggest customers, Mulloy said.

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