The leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United States along with foreign ministers of other countries are gathered for the Middle East Peace Summit in Annapolis, a town steeped in American colonial history. VOA's Rosanne Skirble has this profile of the 300-year-old Maryland State capital, which is reaping the benefits of tourism even as it is facing the challenges of a growing population.
Tourism generates $1.8 billion per year for the local economy. Annapolis Conference and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Connie Del Signore says what attracts many of the four million tourists each year is the city's old-world sophistication.
"And, what I tell my friends and others is that I feel as if I live in a pop-up storybook, because any time of year you can walk along the streets and you look at the beautiful state house, you truly are in a very pretend make-believe setting. It's charming and it's magical," she beams.
Just steps from where Del Signore stands, tourists and school groups in town roam the grounds of the Maryland State Capitol, the oldest in continuous use in the country.
It was here in 1783 that George Washington resigned as commander of the Continental Army. The Capitol also brings thousands of Maryland schoolchildren for city tours.
"I like coming downtown with my mom and dad," says one schoolgirl. "I love the brick roads. They're cool," says another. "It makes it seem historical," adds a third.
Annapolis has more colonial buildings than any city in the United States. That is because local laws preserve its 300-year-old cityscape. Del Signor says people take pride in their compact and walkable town, where all roads lead to the water. "So you see sailboats year round. We have sailboat races in the winter, just for those diehards who have to sail year-round. So it is very picturesque," she tells us.
Visitors also come to shop, dine and tour the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, where they can watch the noontime ritual in which 4,000 midshipmen march in formation. The Naval Academy campus is also the site of the Mideast Peace Summit, chosen both for its historic significance and its high security.
Despite its robust tourist industry, Annapolis suffers growing pains. A local civil rights advocate says affordable housing has become scarce and services for the urban poor do not meet the increased need. Also, a local government official predicts the reorganization of a nearby military base will bring more than 100,000 newcomers to the surrounding county.
All this has locals who stop by for breakfast at 'Chick and Ruth's Delly' on Main Street worried. "I'm very upset about the massive traffic that is going to happen. We have three major building [projects] going on and when they are open and the occupancy is full you won't be able to move in this town," grouses one resident. "I think that Annapolis is growing way too fast (and) that the infrastructure can't begin to support all the building that is going on," says another restaurant patron.
Another man adds, "Some of the older people have moved away because of the congestion. It's a town where if you don't have a little money you can't stay around here. It's real pricey."
Diners at Chick and Ruth's are momentarily distracted from local problems as their historic city prepares to host one of the world's most complex, difficult, and important peace negotiations.