Short blurbs about what's happening in Baltimore.
New Hilton Baltimore Hotel Opens
After nearly two years of construction the Hilton Baltimore Hotel is now open for business. The $310 Million dollar hotel becomes Baltimore's largest hotel with over 700 rooms & suites. Located on West Pratt Street, the hotel is adjacent to the Baltimore Convention Center and will be used as a headquarters hotel for conventions at the BCC.
Since the convention center expansion a headquarters hotel has been a noted missing part of the City of Baltimore's ability to land more conventions to the area. Now that the new Hilton hotel is open, planners expect to be able to attract more conventions and retain their largest customer, OTACON, an annual anime fan convention that brings in 23,000 people for a three day weekend every year in August.
City planners put up a huge bet on whether the publicly backed hotel would help boost Baltimore's sagging convention business. Based on long range city wide hotel booking numbers that have risen nearly 20%, it appears that the Hilton Baltimore will indeed payoff.
The hotel itself features well appointed rooms with modern decoration and in most cases, great views of Downtown Baltimore including Camden Yards. There are many conference meeting rooms to compliment the convention center and when the day's work is over several restaurants and lounges on site await guests and visitors to relax after a hard day of networking, deal making, and marketing.
Tis the Season, Hon
It seems like every year retailers and merchants kickoff the holiday season even earlier than the previous year. Despite their best efforts, Baltimore's holiday season is still recognized as beginning with the lighting of the Washington Monument on the first Thursday of December. Now that the season is upon us we've put together this Baltimore holiday guide filled with both traditional and distinctly Baltimore holiday activities to help you make the most of your Charm City Christmas.
Start the season off with a bang! Baltimore's annual lighting of the Washington Monument is the traditional beginning to the Holiday season in Baltimore. The event includes choir singing, refreshments, entertainment, and is capped off with the lighting ceremony by Mayor Sheila Dixon and a fireworks display accompanied by music. This year's ceremony begins at 6:00pm on Thursday December 6th.
Deck the halls. Head just north from Baltimore to Hunt Valley to see the ultimate Christmas menagerie of lights, decorations, and trimmings at Valley View Farms. For over a generation Valley View Farms has been a must visit destination for Baltimore locals preparing for the Holiday season.
Give back to the community. Like all large cities Baltimore has many families and individuals in need during the Holidays. Taking time to help spread the joy is one of the best ways to enrich your holiday. There are many volunteer opportunities in the area such as distributing toys or helping to serve a holiday meal. The options can be dizzying, to help you sort through the various programs to find one that suits you best visit the BVU's www.volunteercentral.net and get connected with an organization.
Witness a miracle. The miracle on 34th Street in Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood is a holiday tradition like no other. Bring your friends and family to tour through the open houses that make Clark Griswold's holiday light displays look tame. An entire block of city row houses light up the night throughout December to bring holiday cheer to all.
Cut your own tree. While there are certainly no shortage of Christmas tree lots in and around Baltimore that make a convenient place to get your tree, why not make a day out of it and visit a Christmas Tree Farm in MD and cut down your own. Bring your own saw or use one provied by the farm. Captain Jack's Christmas Tree Farm Network is a great directory of local tree farms to help you find one.
Visit Santa and tell him what you really want. Traditional Santa pictures are a staple of every child's Christmas Holiday. One of the best places in the area to visit good ol' Saint Nick is at his Christmas House at Harbor Place in the Inner Harbor. You're never too old to sit on Santa's Lap either, so go down and see him today. Don't forget to bring him some cookies!
See a Christmas Train Garden Baltimore has a local holiday phenomenon known as a Christmas Garden. They are elaborately decorated displays of holiday cheer which often include large installations of model trains, Christmas and pop culture characters, and holiday lights. Examples include the Shops at Kenilworth, Engine Company 45's fire station at 2700 Glenn Ave, and the B&O Railroad museum's holiday festival of trains.
Downtown Baltimore Moving East
Take a look around Baltimore today and you'll see a lot of development going on throughout the city. Cranes, scaffolding, and dust clouds are especially common sights along the Baltimore waterfront. From the top of Federal Hill Park you can get a commanding view of the waterfront where you'll notice that one particular area dominates the construction boom of Baltimore, Inner Harbor East.
Old timers in Baltimore remember the land in between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point as a barren patch of crumbling warehouses, old factories, and failed housing projects. For decades after the Inner Harbor bloomed and Fells Point became a protected historic district, the area in between the two became a no man's land of abandoned urban rot. Then a baker came along who happened to find the right ingredients for this stale neighborhood.
Joe Paterakis, the owner of Fells Point's H&S Bakery, came into the 20 acres of land in the 1980's after the previous owner fell into financial difficulty in the wake of the Savings and Loan scandal. Inspired by New York City's Battery Park, Paterakis' development team drew up a master plan for the area that would create a neighborhood where businesses, residents, and tourists could thrive together in an urban environment. As exciting as the plan was, many people did not buy into it. No one wanted to be the pioneers of the development. Paterakis believed so strongly in the concept that he used a considerable amount of his own dough to jump start the project by enticing the first tenants with unbelievable incentives to move in
Fast forward to 2007 and in less than a decade after the first tenants moved in, Inner Harbor East has become a whole new world. Retail shops, high end restaurants, a grocery store, a luxury hotel, a marina, corporate offices, waterfront condos and apartments are thriving here. But the Inner Harbor East's development is not quite done yet. Plans for a Four Seasons Hotel and an office tower where Legg Mason has just signed a lease to move into from their downtown headquarters will keep the construction boom working through the end of this decade. By that time Baltimore's skyline will be radically changed as it extends to the East. Inner Harbor East that is.
O - R - I - O - L - E - S !
Opening day for the Orioles '07 season is just around the corner and hopes for a successful season are blooming in the hearts of O's fans throughout Baltimore. Depending on who you ask, a successful season includes a playoff appearance, but in baseball's most competitive division many fans would be happy to see the birds fly above .500 for the first time in 10 years.
Long time orange and black fan Pheobe Ross of Towson sums it up quite nicely, "I can only hope for a winning season but I dream of the playoffs."
Regardless of the team's performance many will be happy just to get back to "The Yard". Baltimore's world renowned baseball stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, has long been a popular attraction for out of town visitors and locals alike. Its retro look and fan friendly design made it the standard from which other ballparks in the country are judged. Despite the attraction of Camden Yards attendance has been in decline during the Orioles recent downturn. The O's believe they can turn their attendance and performance issues around with fresh talent from the farm system and free agency acquisitions.
The Orioles will begin the season on April 2nd in Minnesota starting staff ace Eric Bedard against Minnesota's perennial Cy Young contender, Johan Santana. After a stop in the Bronx the birds will open up at home on April 9th against the American League champion Detroit Tigers for a three game series.
The home opener will be the first of several designated "prime games" where ticket prices will be $1 to $10 higher than regular games. Prime games are a new initiative to gain more revenue for the ball club. The New York Yankee and Boston Red Sox series are this season's additional prime games. While throttled ticket prices may be controversial, bargain hunters can still find a deal on Tuesdays with $15 Upper Reserved seats for only $8.
Baltimore Gets a Breath of Fresh Air
The Baltimore City Council voted 9 – 2 in favor of a ban on indoor smoking in public areas on February 26. Most indoor areas such as museums, stores, theaters, and hotels have long been smoke free, however the major holdouts have been bars and restaurants for which this ban was targeted at.
Backers of the smoking ban are enthusiastic about the public health improvements that will be brought on by the ban. Most notably restaurant and bar workers who spend large amounts of time in a smoky environment will have a healthier work place. Proponents also hope that the ban acts as further motivation for current smokers to stomp their butts out for good. Additionally, smoking ban proponents in Annapolis hope that the action of the Baltimore local government will be backed up by the state assembly in passing a ban throughout Maryland in the next legislative session.
However not everyone is happy about the new ban. Many bar and restaurant owners have concerns of lost revenue at best and going out of business in extreme cases due to the high correlation between smoking and drinking alcohol. Others feel that this is another example of over governing and want the decision to be made by individual business owners.
The smoking ban takes effect on January 1, 2008 and imposes fines of $250 for personal violators and $500 for businesses who allow smoking indoors. Certain exceptions to the ban will be made for businesses such as cigar bars, hookah lounges, and tobacco stores whose business relies on tobacco sales.
Baltimore Gears Up For Black History Month
Now that Black History Month has arrived special events and activities celebrating the history of African Americans with an emphasis of their contributions and impact on Baltimore can be found happening all over town. Baltimore has been an important center of AA culture dating to the colonial era and continues to be to this day. Due to this long tradition of a vibrant African American community there have been many famous African American people, movements, and cultural contributors throughout the history of Baltimore.
Some of the most important contributions to Baltimore came from the black churches originally founded by free blacks during the slavery era. Many of the churches stand today and are a great starting point for black spiritual and civil rights history in Baltimore. Of note is the Sharp Street Methodist Church which is the oldest black congregation in Baltimore dating back to 1787.
Further historic centers include the Baltimore Civil War Museum which lies in an old train station at Fleet & President Streets. The train station was a stop on the Underground Railroad and helped many people escape from the shackles of slavery. Among those freed was Frederick Douglas an Easton, MD born slave who spent his youth in Fells Point. He later returned to Baltimore in his twilight and built several houses in Fells Point's modern day Dallas Street. The USS Constellation in the Inner Harbor spent two years prior to the Civil War interdicting slave ships off of the coast of the Congo River. The squadron which it led was responsible for freeing more than 4000 people. Baltimore is also privledged to be the home of countless notable African Americans such as Billie Holiday, Thurgood Marshall, Henry Highland Garnet, Eubie Blake, Cab Calloway, and Fanny Jackson Coppin.
To take part in the celebration of this rich history you can visit any of the above mentioned places or you may be interested in visiting the Great Blacks in Wax Museum or The Reginald F. Lewis Maryland African American Heritage Museum. Another great starting point is the African American Heritage Guide from the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association (BACVA), available on the web and covers the attractions and events that celebrate black history.
Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel
The Baltimore Area Convention & Visitor's Association is eagerly awaiting the completion of the Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel. Slated to be completed by August 2008, the convention hotel is being constructed immediately to the West of the Baltimore Convention Center. The Hilton branded hotel will provide key features which BACVA officials hope will stimulate the lagging convention business in Baltimore City.
The Convention Center in Baltimore has struggled to book larger events due to the lack of a headquarter convention hotel. In spite of a plethora of hotels in the downtown area and the tourist friendly Inner Harbor, the lack of an adjacent hotel has deterred convention planners from selecting Baltimore as a host for their larger events. After several years of debate about the project's financing and operation, city officials green lighted the $300 million dollar hotel in 2005 as a city owned property overseen by the non profit Baltimore Hotel Corporation.
The 750 room hotel will provide reserved blocks of rooms for the convention center. Besides adding rooms to the hotel inventory of Baltimore, it will also add about 70,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space for conventions. Additionally a covered sky walk built over Hanover Street will connect the hotel to the convention center, effectively extending the "super block" that the convention center resides at from Charles Street to Paca Street. Area hoteliers are optimistic about the project, believing that their occupancy rates will not be affected negatively, and they forecast additional business from increased convention activity.
Dixon Rises to Mayor's Office
On January 17th Sheila Dixon replaced Martin O'Malley as the Mayor of Baltimore City. Ms. Dixon will serve the remainder of O'Malley's term of office due to his successful bid for Governor of Maryland. After which she intends on running for mayor in this year's election. She holds the distinction of being the first female mayor of Baltimore and desires to continue with successful programs initiated under O'Malley such as CitiStat and to implement new ideas to tackle old problems.
Dixon has served the last two terms as the City Council president. In her most recent election she received over 80% of the city wide vote. Accordingly, she is favored to win this year's upcoming mayoral election. Dixon is a lifelong city resident who grew up in Ashburton, graduating from the Baltimore City Public School System with an undergraduate degree from Towson University and a Masters degree from Johns Hopkins University. Prior to being council president she was the city councilwoman for the 4th district in North Baltimore.