All-Star Game is a hit with merchants, grand slam for Baltimore's image


In the economic box score, Baltimore's 1993 All-Star Game put up some MVP numbers.

For hotels, bars and caterers, it was a home run. For Inner Harbor restaurants, a double that stayed in the ballpark only because of the hot, sticky air. Downtown retailers at least got on base with a single.

And for Baltimore's image, it was a grand slam off the warehouse.

"I think we showcased the city like it's never been showcased before," said Gil Stotler, Baltimore's assistant convention director, still reveling in the glowing compliments and flattering coverage that CBS television bestowed on the city.

"Every time they turned around they were saying something great about Baltimore," he said. "God, it was like I was paying them."

Mr. Stotler said it would take several weeks before city officials could quantify the impact of the game and the five-day celebration of baseball that accompanied it. But he had no doubt that it was the most lucrative five-day period the city has ever seen. He estimated that 115,000 attended the FanFest baseball exhibition at the Convention Center, and 48,000 were at the game, plus assorted hangers-on who just wanted to share in the carnival atmosphere.

The city's hotel managers were still beaming yesterday after almost a week of full occupancy at mostly full-price rates. According to Mr. Stotler, the economic ripples from the game sloshed far out into the surrounding area, as hotels in places as distant as Hunt Valley filled up.

And those hordes of visitors weren't getting by on just peanuts and Cracker-Jack.

At some Inner Harbor restaurants, the All-Star weekend fulfilled their owners' fondest dreams -- hordes of diners, including celebrities to fawn over.

"It was one of the best weekends we had in years," said Rocco Gargano, manager of Da Mimmo's in Little Italy, which played host to the likes of San Francisco outfielder Barry Bonds and Wendy's Chairman Dave Thomas.

Ruth's Chris Steak House had a "terrific" four-day period from Saturday through Tuesday, said owner Steve De Castro. He said his restaurant attracted a virtual All-Star team of red meat-eating Old-Timers, including such baseball legends as Yogi Berra, Al Kaline, Juan Marichal and Harmon Killebrew.

Jonathan Soudry, owner of La Provence, said his Hopkins Plaza restaurant did very well -- not just in the number of diners but in the size of the checks.

"It brought a clientele that was in a mood to spend money," he said.

One thing they spent money on was wine -- expensive wine. At the Harbor Court hotel, a buffet for Hall of Famers rang up a wine check of more than $1,000 as they sampled such triple-digit rarities as Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, said maitre d'hotel Philip Bernot.

But Mr. Bernot said that while his visitors "spent freely and graciously," they weren't in a mood to linger over a five-star dinner at Hampton's. Business at the elegant Hampton's was only average, while the hotel's more casual Brighton's packed in a crowd.

For some restaurateurs, the All-Star weekend fell short of expectations because the weather struck out. At Phillips Harborplace Restaurant, 100-degree temperatures made it impossible to open the outdoor dining areas, and diners weren't inclined to stand in line to eat inside, said manager Mike Gough.

"We didn't come close to the numbers we projected doing, but without the All-Star Game, we would have had nothing," he said. Harborplace spokeswoman Kate Delano said the story was the same for other restaurateurs in the festival marketplace.

For the most part, the game's impact on the city's restaurants was confined to the Inner Harbor area and the hotels. At Tio Pepe on Franklin Street, owner Miguel Sanz saw Bo Jackson, but no real increase in business.

One of the few restaurants north of Fayette Street to feel any significant impact was The Prime Rib in Mount Vernon, where owner C. Peter "Buzz" Beler reported heavy limo traffic and business that was "a little busier than usual."

"The players we didn't get," he said. "The management we got."

For downtown retailers, the All-Star game was a small boost.

"Everybody here thought it would be better than it was retail-wise," said Karen Hoffberger, manager of Eclectic, a clothing store at the Gallery at Harborplace. However, she said, "it helped business without a doubt."

Ms. Hoffberger said retailers at the Gallery had hoped to see more players in their stores, but that most of them couldn't get past the hordes of autograph seekers. Still, the store saw quite a few of the players' wives and relatives, she said.

"A lot of them came in from Toronto," she said.

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