At the Maryland Marina on Frogmortar Creek in Middle River, workers were recently moving a lift into place to pull a boat out of the water.
“These guys would not be working here if there wasn’t a waterfront,” said Robert Palmer with the Marine Trades Association of Baltimore County.
Palmer bristles over a consultant’s report done for the county that he said shortchanges the shoreline’s tourism potential. Palmer and others who make their living along Baltimore County’s more than 200 miles of shoreline say its potential to attract tourists is being ignored. This comes as the county is looking for ways to up its tourism game.
Palmer’s worried county officials, after reading the report, will decide to spend money on tourism promotion elsewhere.
Palmer is concerned county officials will spend their promotion dollars "on the wineries and the breweries" rather than on the waterfront businesses.
Next door to the marina is Sunset Cove, which bills itself as Middle River’s original beach bar. Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents Middle River, sees Sunset Cove as one example of restaurants, marinas and water sports along the shore that are getting no love from the county.
Bevins asked, “How do you get people from the west side and how do you get people from Pennsylvania to come down to know that it’s here?”
Bevins and fellow east side councilman Todd Crandell have made it clear to Baltimore County Economic Development Director Will Anderson they are not happy. And Anderson got the message.
“I didn’t mind taking a punch there,” Anderson said. “We deserved it. We haven’t done enough there.”
Anderson said when it comes to promotion it’s not just the waterfront that has been shortchanged. The county’s tourism promotion budget has been around half a million dollars. The consultant recommends doubling that over the next few years and Anderson said he expects that will happen. The Baltimore County Council in May approved increasing the hotel room tax from 8 to 9.5%. A portion of that goes to tourism.
Anderson said the county also is interested in something San Francisco has done and Baltimore City is considering: creating a tourism improvement district. Promotion within that district would be paid for by an additional fee tacked onto a hotel room bill.
“It’s money that can go right back into promoting to those communities that are going to come spend more money,” Anderson said.
The overall county tourism budget is more than $1.8 million. About $700,000 of that goes to organizations outside the county that residents enjoy, like the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
The tourism report also kind of threw some stuff on the wall to see what would stick, like McCormick having a spice museum at its headquarters in Hunt Valley. Cool idea maybe, but a spokeswoman for McCormick said they’re not considering that.
Then there’s the state fairgrounds.
On a recent weekend there were a few things happening, like a cat show.
But the parking lot was mostly empty, unlike during the annual 12 day state fair which attracts a half million people or more.
The consultant recommends upgrading the fairgrounds so more could happen year around. The county doesn’t control the property, so Anderson said they are talking to the owners.
“We know it’s a gem,” Anderson said. “And we’re looking at where our mutual interests are about what it could be to support a tourism and amenity industry.”
It’s an industry that Anderson said could be worth $8 billion to the county over the next 10 years. The trick now is to figure out how to package what the county has, from breweries, to hiking trails, to museums, to its shoreline, and how to pay for it.
You can find the consultant’s tourism report at http://resources.baltimorecountymd.gov/Documents/EconomicDevel/strategictourismreport.pdf