- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

Top hotels booked far ahead

While most eyes in Washington are on the presidential polls in the tight race be-tween Democratic nominee Al Gore and Republican nominee George W. Bush, local party planners are gearing up for a big celebration no matter who wins.

The District is in full inaugural planning mode already preparing for a full week of gala events leading up to the Jan. 20, 2001, inauguration.

The celebration will pump millions of dollars into the local economy, creating a gold rush for businesses from caterers and hotels to event planners and restaurants. Already Washington's hospitality industry is seeing dollar signs.

Hotel rooms are booked by everyone from politicians and the media to Hollywood stars and corporate gurus. Law firms and banks are planning their own private galas either renting space or turning their offices into party hot spots.

Hotel ballrooms, banquet rooms and suites have dozens of private parties lined up. And potential sites for the official inaugural balls are waiting on the final decision from the winning party as to where the galas will be held. Until then the spaces are being held, just in case.

"You'll find the city will really be buzzing," said Mame Reiley, vice president and general manager of PGI/Washington Inc., an event-planning company in the District. "It's the excitement of a new administration. No matter what, it will be viewed as a new administration, regardless of if Gore wins."

During the last inauguration the start of President Clinton's second term the city was full of revelers and parties, but the scene wasn't as lavish as the first time around. Hotel rooms weren't booked completely, compared with Mr. Clinton's first inauguration in 1993 when there were no vacancies.

Each of Mr. Clinton's past inaugural celebrations from the swearing-in ceremony and the parade to the Presidential Gala and official balls cost between $20 million and $30 million. The festivities are usually paid for by private contributions, ticket sales and advertising revenue from the inaugural gala that is nationally televised.

Now with little more than two months to go, the city is preparing to pull out all the stops to ring in a new first-term president and administration.

The Armed Forces Inaugural Committee (AFIC), a temporary military command made up of people from each of the five armed services, has begun the preliminary research for the inauguration celebration. Its main job is to coordinate the military support for the official inaugural activities.

In addition, the committee, which currently has about 200 people on staff and will grow to about 700 people after the election, is dusting off the inaugural archives and collecting information. The committee is laying the groundwork for the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), the group affiliated with the winning party that organizes most of the inaugural festivities.

The PIC has the final decision on how the inaugural celebration will be held. So hotels and meeting spaces for now are waiting on that decision to see what role they will play in the celebration.

But during this time leading to the Nov. 7 election, the city has no choice but to "get their ducks in order and just be ready to run [after the election]," Ms. Reiley said.

Big business

The inauguration means big business for hotels most requiring a four-night minimum stay during a week that is usually slow in the hotel business.

In past inaugural years hotel occupancy has jumped from 5 percent to 10 percent during January, according to the Washington DC Convention and Visitors Association.

For President Bush's 1989 inauguration occupancy jumped 10 percent that January and it increased by 5 percent for Mr. Clinton's 1993 inauguration. For Mr. Clinton's second inaugural celebration occupancy rose only about 4 percent.

"It's realistic to expect a 5 to 10 percent jump this time," said Brian Ullmann, director of marketing at the Convention and Visitors Association.

D.C. hotels already have a substantial number of their rooms booked and some are sold out. That will likely change the day after the election considering rooms have been booked by both the Republican and Democratic parties. Industry officials expect any vacancies to fill up immediately.

Hotel rooms are going to be "in high demand," said Ted Hibler, a director of marketing at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, which currently has all of its 836 rooms booked.

"With the economy the way it is and we're coming off a good year, everyone is poised to have some fun," said Hans Bruland, general manger at the Hay-Adams Hotel.

The 143-room hotel, on 16th and H streets, is at least 90 percent booked, including its Presidential Suite. The hotel is offering a four-night minimum stay inaugural package for $15,000. The rooms range from $425 to $995 per night during the weekend.

The newly opened Ritz-Carlton, Washington DC at 1150 22nd St. NW is offering a $150,000 Presidential Package, a four-night package that includes among other things: a personal butler, a private jet to Washington, a personal massage therapist, a set of Louis Vuitton luggage, a lifetime membership to the Sports Club/LA, two VIP seats at the inaugural parade, and two weekend stays during the next three years until the next inauguration.

"This package will appeal to a couple who enjoys indulging themselves in luxury and wants to mark the election of the first new president of the millennium in a memorable way," said James McBride, Ritz-Carlton general manager.

The 300-room Ritz-Carlton is also offering a four-night minimum stay package from $450 to $3,500 per night.

Already the hotel is nearly booked. The Republican National Committee, for example, is holding 200 rooms. Even if Mr. Bush doesn't win, those reservations will be canceled and the vacancies will be filled, said hotel spokeswoman Colleen Evans.

The hotel has gotten a lot of inquiries from corporate executives who will come to the District no matter who wins. NBC's "Today" show already has reserved rooms there for hosts Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, producers and other staff.

"Either way we're going to sell out," Ms. Evans said.

Room with a view

The hottest rooms in town whether they're hotel rooms or office buildings are those situated along the inaugural parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The parade, which proceeds from the Capitol to the White House, begins 2 p.m. on Jan. 20. In years past, thousands of visitors have lined the streets to get a glimpse of the newly sworn-in president.

The Willard Inter-Continental Hotel's 45 rooms including the 2,280-square-foot Presidential Suite all facing Pennsylvania Avenue are booked. The $3,600-per-night Presidential Suite is booked and has five parties on a waiting list if the space becomes available, said Susan Weissman, a spokeswoman for the 341-room hotel, which is nearly booked.

The newly renovated hotel is one of the hottest hotels. It already has 10 parties happening in the banquet rooms and 15 smaller parties in the suites all taking place on Inauguration Day. The suites, which all have waiting lists, are mostly reserved by lobbyists, Fortune 500 companies, law firms and public relations agencies that will entertain no matter who wins, Ms. Weissman said.

The J.W. Marriott's 164 "city view" rooms that face Pennsylvania Avenue are all booked. Those rooms, located on the seventh to 14th floors, have the best view of the parade and have been booked for years, said Rand Goodman, director of marketing for the 772-room hotel. The rest of the hotel is fully booked, too.

But hotel guests and balcony revelers won't be the only ones with the best seats in the house for the parade.

Businesses such as banks and law firms with windowed offices along the parade route take full advantage of their prime location.

Hale & Dorr, a law firm at 1455 Pennsylvania Ave., is planning theme rooms, jazz music, food, favors and decorations for its inaugural party that will entertain about 600 staff members and clients.

"We're a law firm in Washington, D.C., with an amazing view," said Donna Farber, marketing director for the mid-Atlantic region. "We have to go for it."

Ms. Farber, who is in charge of the party, began preliminary planning at the beginning of this month. Next month, a committee will be put together to delegate jobs to help the party run smoothly that night.

Bank of America, at 730 15th Ave. NW with a view of Pennsylvania Avenue, had its first preliminary inaugural party planning meeting in June. The party, which will extend to three floors of the building, will entertain about 650 guests, said Grace Nystrum, corporate event manager at Bank of America.

The party committee, which meets every two weeks, is planning the details of their event from catering and invitations to transportation and security.

Balls galore

No one knows yet how many official inaugural balls the city will host. It's up to the new president to decide. But if past inaugurations are any indication, Washington's elite can expect multiple official balls.

President Reagan's first inauguration, for instance, had eight official balls and Mr. Clinton's last inauguration had 14 official balls.

Usually the new president tries to make an appearance to take a spin on the dance floor and say "thank you" at each of the balls. In 1989 during Mr. Bush's inauguration, the Bushes averaged about three minutes at each of the nine balls he attended.

No matter who wins the election, the city will buzz with galas.

"It's a not a question if the Democrats do it better or if the Republicans do it better," Ms. Reiley said. "It's exciting."

There are a slew of sites downtown that usually host the inaugural balls. The National Building Museum, the Washington Convention Center and Union Station all could be chosen again for the inauguration in January.

In the past the Presidential Gala, usually televised, has been at the US Airways Arena, but this year the arena is closed.

In August members of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee began visiting about 25 potential sites based on the ones used for official balls in previous inaugurations.

Lt. Col. Kasse Andrews-Weller, chief of special events division of the AFIC, said that the committee does not make any decisions regarding the balls' locations. They are only a "conduit for information" and will pass their research on to the PIC after the election.

The AFIC's visits do not guarantee that site will be the home of one of the inaugural balls.

Although officials don't have any definite bookings, many of the venues such as the Convention Center and the National Building Museum have gone ahead and blocked out the date because they have been chosen in the past.

The Omni Shoreham Hotel, at 2500 Calvert St. NW, has hosted one of the official balls every inaugural year since 1933 and expects to continue the tradition this year, Mr. Hibler said.

That history, along with the hotel's recent multimillion-dollar renovations, should weigh heavily on the decision by the PIC, he said.

Officials at Marriott Wardman Park on Woodley Road are confident their hotel will host one of the balls too. But in the meantime the 1,350-room luxury hotel is busy planning parties already booked regardless of who wins.

Wardman Park, for instance, is the site for the Texas State Society's "Bow and Boot Ball" a Tex-Mex-style gala for about 7,000 people on Jan. 19.

Unlike other inaugural years, the National Air & Space Museum and the National Museum of American History won't be considered as inaugural ball sites, said a museum spokeswoman.

The Air & Space Museum, a staple on the inaugural ball scene since President Carter's in 1976, is undergoing renovations that require closing some of the galleries. The museum will have space to possibly host a smaller private party, said a museum spokeswoman. The history museum has reconfigured its floor plan and wouldn't have enough room to host one of the balls.

New potential sites for the PIC to consider include the MCI Center and the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center. Both venues weren't open during the last inauguration.

Officials at all the potential sites will have to sit back and relax for another week until the election. But once the PIC is created, the focus will shift to the inauguration celebration.

"The minute the election happens … the eyes of the world are on the inauguration," said Ms. Reiley of PGI/Washington Inc. "What a difference a day makes."



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