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New Fort McHenry visitors center to kick off fundraising

Thursday’s official opening of Fort McHenry’s new visitors center will be the kickoff of a fundraising promotion for celebrating the War of 1812 bicentennial.

The War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2007, has begun to ask for corporate and foundation contributions to reach its goal of $16.5 million, said Bill Pencek, director of heritage and cultural tourism for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and executive director for the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission.

In addition to looking to local businesses and foundations for donations, the commission has also been soliciting national sponsors. The fundraising is being done by a nonprofit called Star Spangled 200 that was created by the commission.

“There are many encouraging conversations about deals and investments,” Pencek said. “We hope to soon be able to announce what corporations are among our sponsors.”

The visitor center’s opening will be a chance for potential sponsors to see the lure of historical tourism. The improvements to Fort McHenry were the beginning of the commission’s steps. The opening will also be used to unveil a website for the organization and a new logo for the nonprofit and for the commemorative period. The website will allow the public to make donations as well as buy commemorative period related merchandise, such as banners and coins, Pencek said.

The $15 million visitor center was paid for with federal, state and local money, as well as some park entrance fees. The center is built outside the historic fort and has closer access to the city’s water taxis.

New features will include exhibits and a film, as well as more space for tour groups.

“It feels like it’s been over 40 years in the making,” said Gay Vietzke, park superintendent. “It was important to acknowledge that this facility was desperately needed before the commemorative period got rolling. Many are going to learn about the story of the War of 1812, and this is probably the logical starting point, so we needed to be ready to receive people and get them ready to explore.”

The 32-month-long celebration of Maryland’s involvement in the War of 1812 is expected to cost the state $25 million. Some $8.5 million of that is expected to come from the sale of commemorative $5 gold coins and silver dollars, which will be sold next year at $35 and $10, respectively.

Half of the $25 million will go to nonprofits and organizations around the state doing events and programs on the War of 1812. Then $10 million will be invested directly by the commission into programs and three signature events: an official week-long kickoff celebration in June 2012; an event in spring 2013 to mark the partnership of the U.S., Canada and Great Britain; and a September 2014 re-enactment of the September 1814 battle at Fort McHenry.

The economic impact to both Baltimore and the state will outweigh the cost of the celebration, Pencek said. For the June 2012 kickoff, Pencek said the commission created a model based on Baltimore’s OpSail event in 2000. Visit Baltimore will help coordinate the land-based events and activities, while Sail Baltimore and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts will handle seaside events.

The week-long event will bring at least 1.5 million visitors to the Inner Harbor and more than $100 million in direct spending in the city, Pencek said. That spending includes transportation, food, lodging and other entertainment and shopping.

Among the events planned are a parade of tall ships at the Inner Harbor and a formal salute from Fort McHenry’s cannon deck, Vietzke said. A U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration is also planned, and there will be television coverage from the fort, she said.

“June 2012 is a dry run for September 2014,” Vietzke said. “That will be here at Fort McHenry the real focus. That will be a national focus on the 200th anniversary of the national anthem.”

One comment

  1. We are extremely fortunate to have Ft. McHenry in our backyard. I just visited with my daughter on Sunday and it looks like the new visitor center is an impressive addition to this national treasure.