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Papal visit a blessing for business Gala expected to draw 300,000 and $26 million

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Pope John Paul II will be in Baltimore all of 10 hours Sunday, but the city is staging a weekend-long extravaganza expected to attract 300,000 visitors and pump some $26 million into the local economy.

While the Mass at Camden Yards and the papal parade ' downtown will draw the visitors, the celebration will extend throughout the city. Choirs will sing along the harbor's edge, museums will feature Catholic-related exhibits, trolleys will shuttle visitors to historic churches and synagogues. Restaurant owners hope to be blessed with hungry travelers. Harborplace merchants are extending their hours and selling keepsakes like papal thimbles and music boxes with singing nuns.

Pope John Paul's visit is expected to draw the sort of visitors that businesses dream of attracting: a low-key, family-oriented crowd.

"This," says Bill Blaul, the archdiocesan spokesman, "is just the kind of tourism you want. These people aren't going to come in and tear the town apart."

Many downtown hotels already are booked for Saturday night, with visitors expected mainly from Maryland and nearby states such as Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina.

As of Monday, 760 of about 5,600 downtown rooms remained available for the peak night, Saturday, the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association says. Hotels beyond the city report heavy bookings as well.

Only 434 of more than 8,000 rooms remain for Saturday night among suburban hotels that are members of the convention bureau.

Distinctively Baltimore

Hotels expect brisk business in the final days leading up to the visit.

Pope John Paul's historic visit will extend the focus well beyond the Mass at Camden Yards, with a distinctively Baltimore flavor celebrating the city's history and rich religious heritage.

That's no accident. The Archdiocese of Baltimore coordinated a vast platoon of volunteers who worked a year with hotels, businesses, churches, tourist attractions, the state and the city to carefully choreograph a weekend gala.

Playing up the papal tie-in

"We're doing as as much as we can to tie in Baltimore and Maryland so it's not just the pope's visit to any place," says Paul Wolman of P. W. Feats Inc., a Baltimore events marketing firm.

"We're playing that up in every way possible," Mr. Wolman said, "so that every time that camera turns around, there's some connection between the Holy Father and our city."

Minutes after the 3,200-member papal parade winds to a close at Charles and Saratoga streets, Baltimore's own Columbus Day Parade will begin in Little Italy. The weekend special at Da Mimmo's Italian Restaurant: "Shrimp ala cardinale."

On Museum Row

On nearby Museum Row, at Baltimore City Life Museums' Carroll Mansion, a costumed likeness of Charles Carroll of Carrollton will explain how he overcame religious intolerance to head the most prosperous family in early 19th-century Maryland.

The Mother Seton House on Paca Street will open its doors to allow visits to the first American-born saint's home.

The Great Blacks in Wax Museum on North Avenue will feature an exhibit on the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first order of black women in the world.

To museums and businesses alike, the pontiff's visit provides Baltimore an unprecedented opportunity to create lasting impressions that could help bolster its reputation as a tourism destination.

Stakes called enormous

The stakes, say tourism industry leaders, are enormous. Image is everything. After all, it will be a first visit to the city for many, and tens of millions across the globe will get close-up views of Baltimore on television.

High-profile draws such as the All-Star Game and Cal Ripken's magical game No. 2,131 all turned the nation's eyes on Baltimore, of course.

But the attention and the cameras rarely strayed from the stadium. This weekend, the focus is expected to be much wider as 1,000 journalists (five times as many as covered the All-Star Game) descend on the city and make their temporary headquarters at the newest harborside attraction, the Columbus Center.

Gary Oster, general manager of the Stouffer Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, ponders the flood of visitors and the international television audience -- and concludes the city could never afford promotional advertising approaching such exposure.

"The price tag would be so huge, it would be mind-boggling," says Mr. Oster, whose sold-out hotel will be home to more than 100 cardinals and bishops from throughout America this

weekend.

"This is in a class by itself or, to use a sports analogy, a league by itself, for the Holy Father to come to Baltimore," Mr. Oster said.

For their part, businesses anticipate a well-to-do crowd willing to pay handsomely to eat, drink and take home a bit of history.

Extended hours

Harborplace will extend its hours for the first time in the marketplace's 15 years, keeping the Light Street pavilion open an extra three hours, until midnight Saturday and two hours Sunday, closing at 8 p.m.

But as any hotel or restaurant manager well knows, hearty meals, fascinating diversions, even extraordinary international events alone won't help transform a city into a tourist destination without considerable attention to the little niceties that make big impressions: warm greetings, polite staff, informed advice.

Hospitality seminars

Enter "Disney University," the training branch of one of the world's premier attractions, Walt Disney World. Tomorrow morning, more than 300 city workers -- from restaurant and hotel employees to taxi drivers and tour guides -- will attend seminars at the Convention Center to learn hospitality, Disney-style.

"I consider this a defining moment in our city's history," said Ed Sherwin, head of the Restaurant Association of Maryland's education and research arm. "Baltimore has to compete with the Pittsburghs and the Clevelands and the Cincinnatis of the world, and this is really going to elevate us to a new dimension, so it's really important for us to put our best face forward."

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