Empty-nest syndrome? Ravens' summer home: Training camp hasn't lured big crowds, but host is hopeful.


THE COLLEGE concession stand chocolate bars are headed for freezer storage, merchants in downtown Westminster have abandoned Sunday hours, and the Carroll County seat is crossing its fingers that it can use the $2,000 purple street banners it bought in future years.

Ravens mania has yet to strike summer football training camp at Western Maryland College, at least to the extent envisioned by the town fathers and businesses.

Visitors to the practices have come from as far away as Florida, but the tourist numbers are not even close to the initial expectations by Westminster officials. They are less than half the level projected by the National Football League or the numbers racked up at Frostburg State University last year during its initial summer camp for the Washington Redskins.

Logistics have worked well, however. Parking lots near the fields were finished in time, with ample highway signage; weekend shuttle bus service to the camp was in place. The college worked to meet the team's every need, even shifting dinner service from the dining hall to the motel where the Ravens stay.

When the predicted crowds of visitors didn't materialize in the first three weeks, some disillusionment set in among the locals. The excitement over a new pro team didn't seem to translate into economic impact. People who recalled the Colts' training camps of yore and expected after-hours schmoozing with players were disappointed, even though the grueling training days leave little time for socializing.

But Westminster and Carroll County need to stick to the game plan. Their long-term objective requires patience and an ability to look to a future payoff. A lot is at stake -- millions of dollars in direct spending -- if the community and the college prove they can meet the Ravens needs. Owner Art Modell has already indicated a willingness to return, even though the current agreement is for this year only.

Most alluring is the prospect of possibly landing the permanent headquarters and year-round facilities for the Ravens (as Mr. Modell built for the Browns in Ohio). Lots of places are in the competition. But Carroll has a good site to offer and might make the team's short list if community enthusiasm and hospitality can prove a winner this summer.

Pub Date: 8/05/96

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