Investment firm celebrates birthday by offering a present to thousands; Alex. Brown picks up tab for admission to attractions


Thousands took advantage of free admission to Baltimore tourist attractions yesterday, culminating the weekend's kickoff of the 200th anniversary celebration of the founding of investment bank Alex. Brown.

To demonstrate its intent to remain a major benefactor in the community, Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown, the entity formed after Deutsche Bank acquired Baltimore-based BT Alex. Brown, spent more than $50,000 so people could visit attractions such as Port Discovery, the B&O; Railroad Museum and the National Aquarium for free, company officials said.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 people took advantage last weekend of the free admission to 11 attractions around the city, according to company estimates. Visitors with a red-and-white flag -- the bank's symbol -- or a copy of one clipped from an ad in The Sun paid no admission fees, but many visitors without flags enjoyed the same benefit.

At the Baltimore Zoo yesterday, nearly two-thirds of the 3,500 visitors -- 2,200 -- had their admission paid by Alex. Brown, said Lynn Teret, director of guest experience for the zoo.

Demetria Barrett and her daughter, Jazlyn Kelley, 5, arrived from Northwood, eager to see the animals.

"I heard about the promotion on television and was really happy to have a chance to come," Barrett said. "We love the zoo."

Suriya Sanchez and Sean Ward of Bridgeport, Conn., attended, waving the bank's flags, courtesy of Sean's brother, Irvin Ward, who lives in South Baltimore. They were grateful for the savings and expressed thanks for "a great promotion."

David and Jennifer Negley of Catonsville learned about the promotion from a friend who works for the investment bank. They brought their children, Rachel, 9; Jacob, 7; and Benjamin, 5, who rode on his mother's shoulders and waved a red-and-white flag.

At Port Discovery, the year-old downtown children's museum,visitors were stunned to learn that admission, normally $7.50 for kids and $10 for adults, was free.

"You're kidding," said Shari French of Severn. "What a great idea."

"I like the giant slide," said her son, Thomas, 3.

Bill Warnken of Worcester, Mass., was pleasantly surprised to learn he would save more than $70 in fees for his group of eight.

"This is very nice thing to do for visitors and locals, too," Warnken said. "I used to live in Baltimore and downtown wasn't always such a nice place to be. Now it's great -- so family-oriented."

Attendance at Port Discovery was 2,515 yesterday. That is about 600 more visitors than usual for a Sunday at this time of year, said Brian Keiser, a supervisor at the museum.

At the B&O; Railroad Museum in Southwest Baltimore, Ulrich Ploeger of Hamburg, Germany, said he wasn't surprised by the corporation's generosity.

"Deutsche Bank is my home bank," said Ploeger while marveling at the huge steam locomotives.

"I'm very familiar with the bank and its good works," he said.

Such comments pleased Margaret Preston, chief of staff for Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown.

The company has pledged $5.5 million in gifts to area schools, museums and community programs, Preston said, and the bicentennial celebration -- commemorating bank founder Alexander Brown's arrival in the city from Ireland in 1800 -- will continue throughout the year and conclude Dec. 21 with another large charitable contribution.

"We're trying to make people -- our customers, but also area residents -- understand that our presence is here in the community," Preston said.

She said she was gratified by the spirit of sharing as she watched zoo visitors pass their flags to other patrons who were unaware of the promotion.

"That's what we wanted," she said. "We didn't want anyone left out, paying an admission because they didn't know about it."

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