Frostburg pins hopes on Redskins Training camp seen as boon for business


FROSTBURG -- When the Washington Redskins arrive for summer training camp this afternoon, they'll be hailed as the biggest thing to happen in this old coal mining town since the state opened a tiny teachers college here. That was 93 years ago.

So big is the National Football League team's arrival that today has been declared "Redskins Day" not only in Frostburg, but in all of Allegany County.

The fanfare will begin at 2:30 p.m. when Redskins head coach Norv Turner, his players, owner Jack Kent Cooke and Maryland officials board -- what else? -- the "Redskins Express" in Cumberland for the 16-mile chug on a popular steam excursion train up Piney Mountain to Frostburg.

"This really is the most significant thing to occur in Frostburg in the last 100 years," said John Bambacus, mayor of this western Allegany County town of 8,000. "People are really excited, and this community is really proud. What this has done is really brought about a belief in ourselves as people and in our community."

Shopkeepers and homeowners have spruced up their buildings and sidewalks, planted flowers and trimmed bushes and picked up trash along town streets. Stores vacant a year ago have reopened as restaurants, bars and coffee shops -- all in anticipation of the Redskins, who will train four weeks at Frostburg State University.

"We put signs up a year ago that this was the home of the Redskins," the mayor said. "We were optimistic." Mr. Cooke had agreed to consider moving the training camp Frostburg during his initial haggling for a new stadium in Maryland's suburbs to Washington.

Everyone here, it seems, is reveling in the Redskins' commitment last month to use Frostburg State as the team's summer training camp for the next 10 years. That's because county and town officials see the training camp, despite its short duration, as a boon to regional tourism and to-die-for national exposure.

"This is another cog in our economic development wheel -- the whole Cumberland area will benefit," said Dr. Ronald M. Barmoy, a dentist in Frostburg for 31 years.

Between 30,000 and 40,000 people are expected to visit Frostburg during three weeks of open training, meaning anyone can watch, before the doors are shut for the secret stuff. Motels from Frostburg to Cumberland are booked.

And tickets for the Redskins' July 29 scrimmage here against the Pittsburgh Steelers -- a favorite in many parts of Western Maryland -- are sold out.

Businesses, restaurants and bars along Main Street are hoping fans will shop and eat between morning and afternoon practices. Burgundy and gold, the Redskins' colors, drapes every storefront -- streamers, flags, banners and towels, even.

Redskins flags fly from poles and businesses.

"I'm hoping it does great for my business," said Kelly Cochran, owner of Hi-Way Pizza, a small restaurant next to the now relatively quiet FSU campus. "The summer is just so tough on business. This is a real positive move for all of us, and we're excited."

Almost every store is selling some type of Redskins souvenir -- mugs, glasses, key chains, towels, T-shirts, memorabilia.

But not everyone is sure how many tourist dollars will flow uptown, just a few blocks from campus and the practice field.

"We strongly feel that restaurants, hotels and gas stations will do well," said Lois Hann, manager of a Main Street card and gift shop. "But for the rest of us, it's a wait-and-see kind of thing. We were really surprised that they signed a 10-year contract. That's a real positive sign."

How much financial impact the team and its followers will have in Allegany County is unknown. "It's way too early to tell," said Sharon R. Thomas, Allegany County Chamber of Commerce executive director.

But an FSU study estimated the Redskins would mean a windfall of $1.724 million for Allegany County alone -- no small change for a region that has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs in recent years. Surrounding Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia counties would reap some benefits, as well.

One thing is certain. Frostburg's gain has been a loss for Carlisle, Pa.

The central Pennsylvania borough, a community of about 20,000, had been home to the Redskins' camp at Dickinson College since the early 1960s.

"It really put Carlisle on the map," said Bill Duncan, president of the borough council. "It was a really positive experience to have them here all those years. It was a big factor in the tourism economy. It brought a lot of people up from Washington. For a lot of people, this was their only chance to see the Redskins, meet with players and get autographs. We wish they hadn't gone."

He said borough and college officials are hoping to persuade another football team to use Carlisle for a summer training camp.

Natalie Chabot, manager of the Allegany County Visitors Bureau, said the training camp will draw tourists to an already busy summer resort area.

"Some motels up in the Carlisle area did pretty well during training camp," she said. "We expect the same here, and we just know people are going to fall in love with Allegany County."

Mayor Bambacus is on the same wavelength: "My hope is that we will get some of these Washington folks who will find Frostburg a charming little town, are getting fed up with commuting, and think, 'All I need is a little phone line . . . Frostburg is a very attractive place.' "

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