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Nonprofit recruits international visitors for culmination of Star-Spangled 200

The British are coming, the British are coming! And they might be joined by the Norwegians, the Portuguese, the Serbs — or dozens of other potential visitors.

About 40 representatives from various countries hear about the USS Constellation during the 10th Annual Attache Day activities to help attract foreign ships to visit the Inner Harbor. (Alissa Gulin/The Daily Record)

About a dozen foreign ships are expected to sail into the Inner Harbor next year for the culmination of Star Spangled 200 — a three-year celebration commemorating the War of 1812 that organizers expect will provide a tourism and, in turn, financial boom for Baltimore.

Corralling vessels from around the world into the Inner Harbor is a valuable cultural opportunity and a serious moneymaker, city officials said. But first, ambassadors from visiting nations must be persuaded to make the journey.

That’s where the volunteers from Sail Baltimore come in. The nonprofit organization recruits participant nations for the maritime events it coordinates, including Baltimore’s Star-Spangled Sailabration festival last year, which brought in an estimated $166 million for the city.

“We help them do everything, from soup to nuts, every little thing that goes along with putting a ship in the city,” said Nan Nawrocki, president of Sail Baltimore.

Recruiting efforts were in high gear Wednesday, when the nonprofit hosted about 40 foreign dignitaries for a tour of iconic Baltimore destinations. The goal of the 10th Annual Attaché Day was to showcase the city and convince ambassadors to participate in the September 2014 event, which will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore.

Wednesday’s marketing efforts began on “the Top of the World” — the top-floor observation room in Baltimore’s World Trade Center, where several city officials did their part in the wooing process.

“I gotta tell you,” said Dominick Murray, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, to the crowd. “If you are able to help make the decision to have Baltimore and Maryland be a port of call, there is going to be no better time than Star-Spangled Spectacular.”

The day continued with tours of the USS Constellation, a Civil War-era vessel docked in the Inner Harbor; Oriole Park at Camden Yards; and Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine.

Wednesday wasn’t just about the Star-Spangled 200 celebration — which continues this month with a series of events dubbed “The Chesapeake Campaign” to highlight the role of other Maryland communities in the War of 1812. Officials want countries to send their ships to Baltimore at other times of the year, as well.

“[A ship from Norway] that comes in November, a lot of those folks they do their Christmas shopping when they’re here,” Nawrocki said. “Usually, we’re their last stop along the way before they head home, so they have to get their presents.”

Nawrocki sees the broad economic benefits such partnerships can bring.

“When the ships come in, they have to buy supplies and fuel,” she said. “And sometimes, the crews go out in town and spend money in restaurants and buy gifts to take back home.”

The visiting countries aren’t charged a fee for berthing their vessels in Baltimore, she said, while the public can tour the ships and enjoy related activities for free.

“So that gives families a little more money to spend around the harbor for parking, for restaurants, for other activities around town when they come in,” Nawrocki said.

Nawrocki said she doesn’t yet know which of Wednesday’s attendees will jump on board for next year’s event but she expects a good turnout.

Capt. Michael Setzer, naval attaché to the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, who was on board a German frigate berthed in Locust Point at Sailabration, called the event “a marvelous experience, a big party.” His sailors enjoyed connecting with the German populations in Baltimore, he added.

“One reason for import is diplomacy…to show you are friendly people,” he said. “And you show your crew that the United States is friendly.”

Attachés look for cities conducive to those goals, he said, noting that Baltimore has been a more attractive choice than other cities.

“New York, the Big Apple, is a wonderful town, but if you go with a ship there, the ship is so small and New York is so huge,” he said. “Or, if you compare with Norfolk [in Virginia] for instance, there are always ships there. So they cannot concentrate so much [on our sailors] as perhaps Baltimore could. And it’s a pretty berthing place in the Inner Harbor or even Locust Point; it’s wonderful.”

Setzer said he plans to recommend that a German ship make an appearance at the Battle of Baltimore commemorative event next year.

Other ambassadors were also receptive to Sail Baltimore’s pitch, such as Rear Adm. Cristian Lindley Ruiz, assistant defense and naval attaché to the embassy of Peru, and his colleague, Capt. Renzo Rospigliosi.

When deciding where to send their country’s ships, they consider common-sense factors such as the quality, cleanliness and security of a port, as well as the ability to travel on land throughout a city. In Baltimore, the proximity to the capital is also advantageous, they said.

Peru won’t be bringing a vessel to next year’s event, they said, but not because they aren’t interested.

“Nosotros estamos construyendo un velero…” Ruiz began, before switching to Spanglish. “We are constructing a tall ship… basta terminado en 2015 …it will be finished in 2015 or 2016.”

Once the vessel is completed, Rospigliosi said, he and Ruiz would “100 percent” recommend to the Peruvian Navy that it be sailed into the Port of Baltimore.

“It’s a beautiful city,” Ruiz said.