- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

The cancellation of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings later this month have added yet another blow to Washington's hospitality industry.

The two days of meetings scheduled for Sept. 29 and 30 would have filled hundreds of city hotel rooms and pumped millions of dollars into the local economy.

"I don't know how else you can add to the pain," said Paul Cohn, senior executive officer of Capital Restaurant Concepts, which owns a cluster of D.C. restaurants, including J. Paul's and Georgia Brown's.

The IMF/World Bank meetings were originally scheduled to last nearly a week, but were cut short after organizers became concerned about protesters and riots.

The official cancellation of the two-day meetings was a result of last Tuesday's terrorist attacks that destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and left a gaping hole in the Pentagon.

The local hospitality industry including hotels, restaurants and caterers are feeling the effects of scaled-back business as droves of people are canceling plans to travel anytime soon. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport a major link for visitors to the District has remained closed since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We're gravely concerned about business," said Reba Pittman Walker, head of the Hotel Association of Washington D.C.

Mrs. Walker said the industry is behind efforts to reopen Reagan National.

Hotels are likely to pick up new business or reschedule existing meetings and conventions, but the lack of convenient transportation will be an obstacle.

"We don't think [Washington Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International] can handle all the traffic that we pick up," Mrs. Walker said.

The cancellation of the IMF/World Bank meetings although a small part of the overall damage of last week's events is taking its toll on area businesses.

Ridgewells Caterers was hit with a wave of cancellations even before the terrorist attacks because clients were concerned about potential protesters disrupting events.

As a result, Ridgewells had only six parties scheduled until Monday, when the meetings were canceled. Ridgewells will likely lose at least $500,000 on the canceled events, said Susan Lacz, a principal at the Bethesda-based catering company.

The Four Seasons Resort on Pennsylvania Avenue was sold out for the week of the meetings for nearly a year. The hotel expects to take about a half-million-dollar hit now that the meetings are canceled.

"The cancellation is a body blow," said Tricia Messerschmitt, a spokeswoman for the 260-room upscale hotel. "We'll never be able to replace the level of business lost."

Marriott Wardman Park, the former headquarters hotel for the IMF/World Bank meetings, will "probably" be empty that weekend, said General Manager Ed Rudzinski.

But Mr. Rudzinski is confident hotel business will pick up during the winter and summer months.

"There will be a major shift in business," he said. "The weeks we would have been dead, we'll be busy. We'll go with the flow."

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