July 1993: The national media descends on Maryland for major league baseball's All-Star Game. Praise for Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Inner Harbor and Charm City hospitality is rushing in from all corners. On the nights leading to the game, downtown streets are teeming with tourists and locals like it's Times Square. Game tickets are gold. Everyone, it seems, wants to be here. The Chesapeake region is the center of the universe, the Big Enchilada, Numero Uno.
November 1993: The swelling of Maryland's collective ego has subsided. We're still holding our breath for a National Football League franchise, for which Baltimore clearly has the cash, but maybe not the cachet.
Now comes news that Northern Virginia will be the site of a new $1 billion Walt Disney theme park, "Disney's America," based on U.S. history. Virginia is also still in the running for an American version of "Lego World," an amusement park being planned by the Danish toy maker Lego. And, just a few years ago, Virginia's Dulles International Airport beat out Baltimore-Washington International Airport as the site chosen for an annex of the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum. (That was actually a precursor to the recent football farce; the sponsors had a preconceived notion of where they wanted to place an attraction in spite of a more generous offer from Maryland.)
Disney's choice of Virginia isn't a total loss for Maryland: It strengthens the international market for BWI Airport. Too, it causes other tourism-related concerns to take a second look here. As state tourism director R. Dean Kenderdine says, "When Disney sneezes, everybody grabs a Kleenex."
Still, it makes one wonder if we're as attractive a draw as the All-Star hoopla indicated. And if so, why are major tourist developments seemingly ignoring Maryland and flocking to Virginia?
Here are a few guesses: Virginia has invested heavily in its tourism industry. Maryland, in spite of a pro-tourism governor, has not. The cost of land in Prince William County, Va., where many of these developments seem to be aiming, is perhaps a third of what it is along Interstate 95 in Howard County. Lastly, the climate for doing business in Maryland -- from its ranking as a "tax hell" to an inhospitable legislature -- is harming economic development efforts.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer has written to Disney Chairman Michael Eisner to suggest that if his theme park plans don't pan out in Virginia, he should consider Maryland. But in a way, Disney and others are already sending a message -- really a wake-up call -- to Maryland: We need to make ourselves more attractive to business.