BALTIMORE -- A group of Maryland business, political and academic leaders has a plan it says could bring scores of television cameras, hundreds of jobs and millions of tourist dollars to Baltimore.

The Columbus 500-Baltimore group is set on making Baltimore the host of the massive 500th anniversary celebration of Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World.

Baltimore is competing fiercely with New York City, Norfolk and Miami to serve as the East Coast destination for a huge regatta of tall ships, which will sail from Europe to America to commemorate Columbus' journey. The city that gets the tall ships will become the focal point for the U.S. celebration, scheduled for the Fourth of July weekend in 1992.

"This will be the equivalent to the Bicentennial celebration or the Statue of Liberty celebration," said Sandra Weiner, director of Baltimore's Office of Promotion and Tourism. "The benefits to the city and state would be enormous. We would reap the benefits for years."

Columbus 500, a nonprofit group, was formed to plan and coordinate the celebration in cooperation with the city and the state. The group does not have a budget but is raising up to $500,000 for operating expenses. The money to pay for the celebration would come from private corporate sponsors nationwide, in the way the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles was financed, according to organizers.

This month, Columbus 500 sent a detailed proposal to the Christopher Columbus Quintcentennial Jubilee Commission, which was set up by the federal government to plan the American celebration.

The ambitious proposal calls for an international naval procession in Annapolis, and 20 to 24 tall ships would sail from there to Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The president would observe the assemblage of warships and tall ships from the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Chesapeake Bay.

Four to five million people could view the parade of sails from various parks around Baltimore, and television cameras could capture the event from strategic locations at the Bay and Key bridges, the proposal says.

Replicas of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, Columbus' three ships, also would be on display in the Baltimore harbor, and in addition to a parade and hot-air balloon races, organizers envision a Christopher Columbus Institute for the study of marine ecology, biotechnology and underseas technology.

"We don't want a mindless World's Fair here," said J. Stanley Heuisler II, president of the group. "We won't have 500 Elvis Presley look-alikes dancing on top of a giant piano."

Heuisler also pointed to Baltimore's advantages over the other cities, including its closeness to Washington, its huge Inner Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay, where many of the ships would sail.

Organizers also cited Baltimore's connection to the famous explorer. The nation's oldest monument to Columbus, built in 1972, stands in Baltimore. The city's Columbus Day parade was first run in 1890, making it the oldest in the country. And Baltimore has a sister-city relationship with two important cities: Genoa, Italy, the birthplace of Columbus, and Cadiz, Spain, from which the tall ships will depart on their commemorative journey.

The group, which already has began wooing some of the federal commission members, includes such local dignitaries as Mathias J. Devito, president of the Rouse Co.; Steven Muller, president of Johns Hopkins University; Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes; and William C. Barker, director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.