Payoff for a convention

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Frye family hasn't had much time to sightsee since arriving in Baltimore late Sunday from Rochester, Minn.

Most of their touring will have to wait for the weekend. Their days are jammed with worship services and classes, prayer and singing as they attend the Church of God in Christ Auxiliaries in Ministry convention, which has attracted an estimated 30,000 people to the city for the week.

"Everything seems to be within walking distance," said Marcia Frye, 28, who is visiting Baltimore for the first time along with her parents and four siblings. "I want to go see the sharks at the aquarium and the Great Blacks in Wax Museum and maybe Camden Yards."

Local restaurants, hotels, shops and attractions are feeling the impact of the visitors, who are expected to spend nearly $25 million in the area - a payoff city tourism officials hope to repeat by attracting other, similar events.

Yesterday, families in town for the gathering browsed through Harborplace shops and milled around the promenade, brochures in hand, planning activities.

Some were headed for boat tours, others visits to attractions like the National Aquarium.

Marcia Frye's mother, Evelyn Frye, and father, Sidney Frye, who is a Church of God in Christ pastor, have traveled with their family to various cities to attend the AIM convention and its predecessor event for 10 years. This year, five of their seven children came with them to Baltimore.

The Fryes booked two rooms at the Holiday Inn Express on Caton Avenue. They ate shrimp and fish Monday night at Harborplace, and bought lunch yesterday at the Gallery's food court. They won't fly out home until Monday - two days after the convention ends - giving them time for some touring.

Usually, the family spends about $3,000 to attend a convention, though the price tag has gone as high as $5,000, Evelyn Frye said. The Fryes, like many other families attending the event, start saving immediately after one convention for the next one.

It's worth it, she said.

"There's a dimension of success we have in our family, and we attribute a portion of that to having attended these conventions every year," Evelyn Frye said. "Every year we take things home. We are inspired, made more enthusiastic. It justifies the time and expense of constantly coming back."

C. Gaynell Burton of Virginia Beach, Va., is trying to squeeze in as much as she can during the free time between convention events.

"Our schedule is so full, we don't get very many breaks," Burton said yesterday. "During the break, we try to visit whatever we can."

So far, that has meant staying close to the Inner Harbor, including the shops in Harborplace.

"We're all into hats and shoes," she said. "We like to dress up. Everybody is down here doing the same thing. Whenever we have free time, we go shopping and go to the restaurants."

Katina Fox, 16, acknowledged that shopping is a popular activity at the AIM conventions.

"I know a lot of people who come to these conventions to shop," she said. "They pack a suitcase in a suitcase."

But Fox, a senior at Caroline High School in Milford, Va., has a different agenda. She plans to tour potential colleges during her stay. Her top choice is the Johns Hopkins University, but she also wants to take a look at Morgan State and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, she said.

For Erusalla Smith and friends from Albuquerque, N.M., the big lure has been the water. Yesterday afternoon, the group was getting ready to ride the Inner Harbor paddleboats and take the Discovery Duck amphibious tour.

LaSheba Bowens, 27, also of Albuquerque, was mapping out a foray to Arundel Mills mall in Anne Arundel County for today.

"It's huge," she said. "It's just the excitement of seeing something so large."

But she also intends to visit art museums and some of Baltimore's African-American attractions.

Donna Joseph of St. Louis planned to eat a dinner of steamed shrimp and clam chowder at Legal Seafood last night. Yesterday, she took a break from convention activities for lunch at Capitol City Brewing Company.

"We're taking the afternoon to see some sights," she said. "We don't want to come this far and not see the sights that are here. We don't have anything like this [Inner Harbor] in St. Louis."

Donald G. Cook II and a group from the New St. Mark Church of God in Christ Church in Richmond, Va., hit ESPN Zone after grabbing lunch at McDonald's.

It didn't take long for the group of eight to spend about $100 playing games, Cook said.

Before the church group of 30 people leaves, Cook said, he intends to see the Great Blacks in Wax Museum, and go to the National Aquarium. He also hopes to take in a baseball game, he said.

Some who attend the conference come looking for something other than sightseeing or fellowship, said Evelyn Frye.

"Many people meet their mate at these conventions," she said. "Many people come with that motive in mind."

Frye knows solid relationships can develop from such meetings because she met her husband at a statewide Church of God in Christ event years ago.

"We met two years in a row, and then it took off," she said.

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