- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams met with more than two dozen cultural leaders from throughout the city yesterday to discuss various ways to revitalize tourism and demonstrate to the nation and the region that the District is safe and open for business.
"My friends in the suburbs think I should be terrified daily," said Ann Corbett, executive director of the Cultural Development Corp. and a Capitol Hill resident.
"We need to show that it is a safe thing to do to come into the city it seems sort of banal and simple, but it's true," she said.
Suggestions for putting the city back on the top of travel destinations include having a national open house where everything is free for families coming to the District; or tying the Washington Wizards, and newest Wizard Michael Jordan, to the release of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the new movie about the boy wizard; or working with Congress to get delegations from various states to tour neighborhoods with their own local press to get the message out across the country.
Several ideas centered on Mr. Jordan, such as having him play basketball on the National Mall, or a photo spread with him attending a neighborhood theater with Placido Domingo, or taking in the latest exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
The Smithsonian Institution, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and other well-known attractions have experienced modest declines in business since the September 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax threat.
Smaller, less-visible sites, however, have been struggling. Some blame the media for not allowing the message to get out that the District is open and instead have been focusing exclusively on the anthrax problem and federal matters. Others criticized the White House and Congress, arguing that if they are still closed to the public, why should anyone feel safe coming to the city at all.
Mr. Williams said he talks almost daily with D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting congressional representative, and other leaders, about reopening these landmark attractions, and agreed that tourists won't return until they resume.
Most agreed that solving the problem will require a joint effort on the part of local cultural advocates and the government, as well as area business leaders.
Some cultural leaders don't want to wait.
The Washington Theatre Awards Society, sponsor of the Helen Hayes Awards, along with other local theater advocates, began an advertising program in early October called "Go to the Theater." Linda Levy Grossman, executive director of the Helen Hayes Awards, called the ad blitz a "Band-Aid" on the problem, but noted it is just a start.
David Umansky, director of communications for the Smithsonian, suggested that groups band together with the larger attractions to spread the word, but he reiterated the belief shared by many of those attending that in order to get the city up and running again for tourists, children and school groups need to feel safe.
Dorothy Pierce McSweeny, chairman of the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities, who conducted the meeting, said the commission hopes to report back with a variety of draft proposals.
"We want to put the face the drama of D.C. on what is here, and expand on it," she said, anticipating another meeting of the group in several months.

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