Baltimore Charity Celebrates At Towson 'Toon' Center The Baltimore Ronald McDonald House celebrated its 15th anniversary by recently staging a week-long promotion at Towson Town Center in Baltimore. The house provides lodging to families as their children undergo medical treatment at hospitals in the Baltimore area (namely at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University medical centers).

In partnership with Baltimore-based P.W. Feats Inc., Ronald McDonald House planned the eight-day event with a cartoon theme, culminating in a Gala Cartoon Ball. "Our goal was to get 500 people [to the ball]," says Maria Cohen, a member of the board of directors for Ronald McDonald House. "We wanted to generate interest in Ronald McDonald House, and [the event] certainly did that."

Balloon sculptures were displayed throughout the shopping center to generate traffic and awareness, says Cohen. Created by local and national balloon vendors, the helium-filled sculptures depicted cartoon images in keeping with the celebration's theme.

The sculptures were installed a week prior to the ball; their creators were recognized for their creativity during the event's final evening. In addition, three 8 ft. x. 10 ft., fully decorated playhouses were displayed for a week and later raffled at the ball.

Leigh Bates, marketing director for Towson Town Center, estimates that more than 230,000 shoppers visited the mall as a result of the balloon and playhouse displays. Ultimately, says Cohen, 400 to 500 guests arrived at the ball, generating more than $100,000 through ticket sales, raffle sales and silent auction.

The evening of the ball, guests were treated to cocktails and entertainment on the lower level of the mall, and they moved to the upper level to participate in a selection of cartoon-oriented, interactive games. Located near one another, the game stations -- among them, Name That Toon, The Chamber of Wham/Bam/Zowie, and Flip Book Factory -- formed a sort of "Toon Arcade."

At Name That Toon, "contestants" squared off to name the theme songs from favorite cartoons. Comic sound effects were at the center of The Chamber of Wham/Bam/Zowie, where visitors mixed the audio accompaniment to the characters and action projected on a screen. Finally, in Flip Book Factory, guests chose characters and situations to create customized flip books (books that simulate animated action when the pages are turned quickly).

The anniversary event was sponsored primarily by Northeast Foods (a Baltimore-based bakery) and local divisions of McDonald's and AT&T. However, notes Cohen, Towson Town Center (owned by San Diego-based TrizecHahn Centers) gets credit for providing the perfect venue.

"The location, size and layout were great," she says. "We had access to their security and maintenance, and we were able to be on different levels [in the mall]. It gave us the flexibility to expand or contract the layout of the ball according to the number of people we expected."

Food Court Margins Rising

In its annual analysis of food court trends, Indianapolis-based CarlsonReport reveals that shopping center food court sales rose only 2.11 percent in the 1996-1997 reporting year. However, due to a drop in the number and average size of tenants, sales per square foot rose more than 8 percent over last year's totals.

CarlsonReport ranks food court performance among 17 tenant categories. In contrast to the 1996 reporting year, when 16 of the 17 categories experienced a decrease in sales per square foot, the latest numbers show increases in 14 of the categories.

Rouse Backs Stones Tour

The Rouse Co., Columbia, Md., is in the midst of an exclusive tour of The Rolling Stones -- not as a mind-numbing, raucous rock concert, but as a black and white photography exhibit. The photo show, originally intended to coincide with the legendary rock band's national tour, details the band's rise to rock 'n' roll fame during the 1960s.

The exhibit made its debut at Northstar Mall in San Antonio and is currently sweeping through multiple Rouse centers across the country.

According to Kevin Farrell, regional marketing manager for The Rouse Co., the photo exhibit was originally intended to run concurrently with the live Rolling Stones tour. "Our original hope was to tie into the Rolling Stones tour, but because of concert kick-off delays, we have not been able to tie it in directly," he says.

Farrell adds that the show need not accompany the concert to be successful. Programs such as "Rock and Roll Up Your Sleeve" blood drives, Karioke contests and local radio sponsorships have built interest in the show.

"I think the centers have been very creative about ways to build programs around the exhibit," Farrell says. "The rock stations shifted the dates of their blood drives, tied them into the exhibit, and substantially increased the number of donations they received from previous years."

Farrell says the event will serve as a blueprint for future promotional events at Rouse locations. "[Our aim was to] use the program as something of a test model of how we can develop more of these kinds of programs in the future, through partnerships, or even the development of our own programs with outside sponsors and promoters."

To see the exhibit to fruition, Farrell says Rouse enlisted The Art of Shopping, a San Diego-based company that has coordinated similar exhibits on Andy Warhol and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. He says Rouse is in discussion with the same company for another exhibit, the content of which has yet to be announced.

"[The Stones exhibit] is the kind of thing that's come along right at the right time, when more and more developers are looking at opportunities to produce events that have multi-center capability," he says.

The Rolling Stones exhibit, after visiting such centers as The Citadel in Colorado Springs, Colo., (this month) and Westlake Center in Seattle (next month), will conclude its 16-center run at Phoenix's Arizona Center in October.