- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2007

Annapolis is a city in waiting

Hotels are bracing for an influx of dignitaries; city planners are mulling traffic patterns; and local businesses are anxiously awaiting new customers from the Middle East peace summit sought by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The big challenge?

There’s no word yet on when the summit will take place, or even if, or how many people to expect if it does.

“We have made no official announcement,” said a State Department spokesman who wouldn’t comment further.

The office of Ellen O. Moyer, mayor of Annapolis, also is short on details.

“We are sort of at the mercy of the State Department,” said city spokesman Ray Weaver, who said the lack of communication could be due to security reasons. “If it is happening, people that need to know — the Annapolis Police Department, security at the Naval Academy — they already know. They’re just not telling me.”

The Bush administration hopes to come up with a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Annapolis gathering, which is expected to take place in late November or early December. But key aspects of the summit remain undecided, a top adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told The Washington Times this week.

“The host hasn’t sent out the invitations,” said Maen Areikat, director-general of the Palestinians’ negotiations affairs department. The date and list of participants are still in the air, he said.

Mr. Weaver said the mayor’s office already has received numerous requests from groups wanting to demonstrate during the summit, but because the applications require a specific date, city officials can’t grant or deny them at this point.

Compounding the situation, Maryland’s General Assembly is convening a special session that starts Monday.

“It’s going to be kind of interesting if the special session is still going on,” Mr. Weaver said, adding that traffic officials are already taking that into consideration in their preliminary discussions.

“We know very little ourselves,” said Bob Burdon, president and chief executive officer of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce. “Certainly whatever we can know in advance would be most helpful so that we can prepare.”

But experience with the annual U.S. Naval Academy graduation, football games and other activities make city businesses well-suited to prepare on short notice, Mr. Burdon added.

“The business community in the city itself I think has the ability to be able to adapt to events such as this when they do come our way,” he said.

Larry Beiderman, general manager of the Loews Annapolis Hotel, said the 217-room hotel has fielded some inquiries from government officials about accommodations.

“They’ve tentatively told us it would be the Friday after Thanksgiving,” Mr. Beiderman said. “At this point nobody’s really willing to make any type of commitment.”

Mr. Beiderman acknowledged it makes sense that the government wouldn’t settle details until the summit’s agenda and participants are decided.

“At this point, we have availability and we’re anxious to be at the service of our government,” he said. “The timing couldn’t be any better because that’s traditionally a slow period for us in Annapolis.”

Paul Miguez, general manager of Lewnes’ Steakhouse, said he wasn’t aware of the summit.

“Honestly, this is the first I’ve heard about it,” said Mr. Miguez, who likened his restaurant, which seats up to 85, to the Prime Rib in the District. “With fall, with the boat shows, Navy home games and depending on the amount of people they expect to come into town for [the summit] we’re pretty much ready. But we can only seat so many.”

A spokesman for the Annapolis Police Department did not return a call for comment.

The Naval Academy referred all questions about a summit to the State Department.

Mr. Weaver of the mayor’s office said the city welcomes the event.

“Honestly, it’s right in with the mayor’s vision of this being a historical city and a place where history is made,” he said.

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