Given the record freezes of recent weeks, it is somewhat ironic that the city's promotion officials chose this winter to revive "Baltimore on Ice: A Winter Festival." Who would go to skate at Rash Field in the Inner Harbor in this kind of weather?
Surprisingly many people have done so, freeze or no freeze. An estimated 25,000 skaters have taken advantage of the waterfront ice rink since it opened in early December. Hundreds more are likely to take a spin by the time it closes for the season in early March.
The ice rink is the centerpiece of what officials hope will become Baltimore's signature winter festival each year. All kinds of spin-off events have been scheduled for this winter: ice sculpting, happy hours, Tykes on Ice and Perky the Penguin on Ice. There were even weather forecasts from the rink until Mother Nature turned all of Baltimore into an ice rink.
Baltimore promotion officials briefly tried an ice festival in the 1980s but it soon disappeared. This time, an annual winter festival is here to stay for at least the next six years, says Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who hopes the event will develop into a major regional tourism attraction.
There appears to be potential for this. After tourism officials bought promotional advertising in Philadelphia newspapers, "the phones rang off the hook" for details, says Wayne Chappell of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. (The targeting of the Philadelphia market was intentional. Research shows it generates more tourism at the Inner Harbor than Washington's Virginia suburbs.)
"I was concerned people would be disgusted with the weather and would not come out," said Nancy Roberts, president of Baltimore on Ice. But while ice storms have deterred crowds, cold weather has not, she reported.
Baltimore on Ice is a worthwhile endeavor. It offers affordable family entertainment and has all the potential of developing into an event that will substantially aid the city's hospitality industry during the winter blahs.