Sights and sounds from the 2016 Baltimore Marathon. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun video)
The 17th Baltimore Running Festival is getting a facelift. Gone is the finish line at Ravens Walk, in the gritty parking lot between Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium. Come race day, Oct. 21, runners of all five races will finish on Pratt Street, at the Inner Harbor.
Organizers of the event announced the change Wednesday, citing the scenic charm of the new locale and the expected economic impact on city coffers.
"What a great backdrop it's going to be for all of those finish-line photos," executive race director Lee Corrigan said. "Now we'll have runners drinking a beer in the iconic Inner Harbor, instead of standing in a parking lot under [Interstate] 395."
Moreover, he said, out-of-towners will be more likely to linger overnight after the race, given the draw of Harborplace.
Mayor Catherine Pugh called the change "an economic generator that will certainly attract more runners to our city."
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Pugh helped establish the event 17 years ago and has run two marathons there.
"I'm very protective of this [festival], but this was an easy decision," she said. "It's important to reinvent yourself from time to time — and this finish line really is representative of Baltimore. Wherever you go around the nation, people talk about the Inner Harbor, and to end there bodes well for the marketing of this city."
Dave Berdan, of Owings Mills, favors the new finish line. A two-time Baltimore Marathon winner (2013 and 2015), Berdan likes the idea of breaking the tape at the waterfront on Pratt Street, between Charles and Light Streets.
"When you think about what makes Baltimore, Camden Yards and the stadiums are a big deal, and a fun place to finish — but the Inner Harbor is just as important," said Berdan, 36. "Federal Hill is right there, too.
"I'm a Orioles fan, and I like running by the Warehouse, but then you're kind of just stuck in a parking lot for the ceremonies. The Inner Harbor is a better place to finish, I think, because more things are going on. Hopefully, runners will check out the pavilion stuff, too."
Organizers are banking on that. The Running Festival is expected to draw more than 24,000 runners from all 50 states, and about 30 nations. City officials say the event has a $40 million impact on Baltimore.
Moving the finish line won't increase the possibility of terror threats on race day, Corrigan said.
"The police department is planning to put up jersey walls and different barricades to keep any kind of situation from occurring," he said.
This isn't the first course change for the marathon. In years past, runners have chugged through the Maryland Zoo and around Fort McHenry.
Organizers have been mulling the change for two years.
"Why? We're constantly trying to improve it," Corrigan said. "Plus, since baseball's new wild-card system (in 2012), we've had to keep an eye on the Orioles' playoff hopes because we finished there. Now, we don't have to worry about that."
The marathon will still start at Camden Yards, outside Pickles Pub. Down the stretch, however, the route has changed. Instead of Eutaw Street, runners will take Maryland Avenue, which becomes Cathedral Street and, finally, North Liberty Street before emptying into Hopkins Plaza. There, they'll turn left onto Pratt and finish beside Transamerica Tower.
The Inner Harbor will house Celebration Village, with the main stage in West Shore Park. A beer sponsor (Dogfish Head Brewery) will set up in Rash Field, with free drinks for all runners.