City's business elite strut their stuff Promoting city: TV commercials to draw people downtown in winter depict business leaders dancing to "The Nutcracker."


They wore dark, pinstriped suits and yet performed graceful pirouettes, lilting side steps and charming turns.

The camera followed a group of prominent Baltimore business brass as they danced at several downtown sites to music from "The Nutcracker Suite" yesterday.

Filming for three television spots -- part of a comprehensive campaign led by the Downtown Partnership -- began yesterday with a holiday-time commercial to air on local TV stations in November and December. The commercials are designed to lure more Baltimore-area residents downtown during the winter.

"This is sort of a self-effacing, charming endorsement of the energy of downtown Baltimore," said Jeff Millman, creative director of Gray Kirk/VanSant, the Baltimore advertising agency that created the TV ads on a pro bono basis.

The commercials will show business leaders dancing their way around such areas as the pedestrian overpass on Pratt Street, the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, Harborplace, the Gallery, Lexington Market and the Washington Monument.

They were created by Gray Kirk/VanSant senior copywriter John Patterson and art director Ron Harper during a lunch-hour brainstorming session.

The spots will air as part of the partnership's multifaceted promotional campaign dubbed "Baltimore's Hottest Winter." The campaign -- to involve TV, radio and print advertising, as well as special events -- will kick off Nov. 14 and run through the beginning of March.

The value of the annual campaign is $1.5 million ($1 million for advertising), said Laurie Schwartz, president of the Downtown Partnership. Yet all but half of that is being contributed through in-kind services provided by Baltimore-area businesses, she said.

The TV commercials, which will still carry the tag line "See Ya Round Downtown," are part of the latest chapter in a series of downtown promotional campaigns formerly known as "The Downtown Baltimore Show," inaugurated last spring.

Among the executives persuaded to come out to "dance" as part of yesterday's shooting were Sister Helen Amos, president and chief executive of Mercy Medical Center; Doug Becker, president of Sylvan Learning Systems Inc.; Ed Hale, chairman of the board of First Mariner Bank; Joseph Haskins Jr., chairman and CEO of the Harbor Bank of Maryland; and Otis Warren, owner of Otis Warren Real Estate Services, the development company.

"I literally can't dance -- but they promised they wouldn't embarrass me," Mercy's Sister Helen said.

Speaking for herself and the other executives who surrendered their dignity for the good of downtown, Sister Helen said the positive promotion can only help a city that needs to overcome its image as a crime-ridden area.

'Just the right thing'

"I think the promotion of downtown Baltimore City is just the right thing to do. We know about all the negatives but not the positives," said Mr. Haskins, whose Harbor Bank headquarters is on Fayette Street near Charles Street.

During the last 10 years, Mr. Haskins said, he has detected a slow decline in foot traffic in many parts of downtown Baltimore -- especially after business hours.

"The Inner Harbor remains strong. But almost everything around it suffers," Mr. Haskins said.

Executives of the Downtown Partnership insist that visits to downtown Baltimore have actually increased in recent years.

But they say that campaigns such as "Baltimore's Hottest Winter" are necessary to remind metropolitan area residents of all that Baltimore's downtown offers in the way of shopping, dining and other attractions.

"You don't see Coca-Cola stop advertising when their sales are up," Ms. Schwartz said.

Sponsors of "Baltimore's Hottest Winter" campaign include Baltimore Magazine, Rouse Co. and The Baltimore Sun Co. The city is also a sponsor.

The Downtown Partnership is a management organization working with businesses and city agencies to create a cleaner, safer and more prosperous downtown.

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