- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is expected to provide a boost to a local economy already beginning to recover from its post-September 11 slump, local officials say.
With hotel-occupancy rates in the District at more than 84 percent, their highest levels since before September 11, officials say teams, fans and media associated with the tournament, will fill up many hotels.
But the tournament, to be held tomorrow and Sunday at the MCI Center, is just one of a multitude of upcoming events in the nation's capital that officials say could return the travel and tourism industry to normal levels. The Cherry Blossom Festival, which begins next week, and the first-ever Washington, D.C., Marathon next weekend are expected to attract the largest number of tourists since before the terrorist attacks.
"I definitely feel very good about March, April and May," said Marilyn Matthews, co-owner of Washington, D.C., Accommodations, a hotel-reservation service. "People don't seem to be expressing any fears of travel."
The Washington, D.C., Convention and Tourism Corp. and local business owners have mounted a significant campaign to bring people back into the city, offering deals on restaurants and hotels and advertising on television and print in major cities along the East Coast.
"There have been tremendous partnerships," said Victoria Isley, marketing director for the WCTC. "So many organizations have worked together to make a difference here."
Tourism officials said about 600,000 to 700,000 people are expected for the Cherry Blossom Festival, which stretches from March 23 to April 8. That estimate is on par with prior years, but it remains to be seen whether hotel-occupancy figures will follow suit. Hotel occupancy is currently higher than the same period last year. But some of that increase can be attributed to lower room rates and special package deals designed to bring people back into the city.
"We still have some work to do, particularly on the leisure-travel side," Miss Isley said.
Meanwhile, managers of bars and restaurants near the MCI Center said they are excited about the prospect of increased business from hoops-hungry tournament fans. Tomorrow is expected to be a big day, as the sold-out MCI Center will be a basketball haven from noon until after midnight. There will be two sessions of two games each tomorrow. Between sessions, fans will be asked to clear out the arena and many are expected to pour into the streets and seek places to have dinner.
"We're pretty excited," said Rich Hemmer, a manager at Fado Irish Pub on Seventh Street NW, right across from the arena. "Hopefully, it will bring some people downtown."
Mr. Hemmer said Fado will experience a double dip of extra patrons this weekend, as people take advantage of St. Patrick's Day festivities.
"The tournament is just an extra bonus for us," he said.
Cheryl Lewis, manager of the Rock, a sports bar on Sixth Street NW near the MCI Center, plans to offer some food and drink specials to coincide with the tournament.
"It should be a great time, especially with Maryland in it," Ms. Lewis said. "I'm really looking forward to this."
Outside the immediate area surrounding the MCI Center, however, economic impact from the tournament will be minimal, said Seamus Houston, marketing director for the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District Inc.
When compared to other high-profile events like the recent NBA All-Star Game, the amount of money reaped from the tournament will likely be relatively small.
Multiday events like the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which will be in the District from March 21 through April 7, are considered a far more lucrative attraction.
"[The NCAA tournament] helps to burnish the city's image, but in terms of overall economic impact, it's a bump we hardly even notice," Mr. Houston said.
That said, D.C. officials say the intangible effects of hosting the tournament will be sizable. A hefty campaign for the 2012 Summer Olympics is bolstered by having a world-class amateur athletic event like the NCAA tournament at the MCI Center, officials say, and any television exposure of the District is expected to help improve its image.
"It's a big event, because it has the chance to show some of the real attractive and interesting sites of Washington," said Richard Monteilh, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.
"It takes the focus off of what we see on the national news."


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