- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament is expected to be a slam-dunk for local businesses as the four-day event returns to Washington for the first time in 18 years.

The annual tournament could pump as much as $18 million into the local economy, boosting revenue for hotels, restaurants and retailers, according to the Washington DC Convention and Tourism Corp.

The ACC competition also will put Washington center stage with its prominent TV placement on ESPN.

“The TV coverage will be tremendous exposure for the city of Washington,” said Amy Miller, president of ERez Resources LLC, the official housing agency for the ACC tournament. “That’s the kind of coverage you can’t beat.”

The sold-out tournament will match up the 11 college teams in the newly expanded ACC beginning tomorrow at the MCI Center, which holds 20,000 people.

It is another event that will help the local hospitality industry this year; the city just came off President Bush’s second inauguration, which pumped an estimated $44 million from overnight visitors into local hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

While the ACC tournament doesn’t require as many hotel rooms or the same pomp and circumstance as the inauguration, it is welcome business for hoteliers and restaurateurs, which have solid bookings through the weekend. Hotel business in general has been solid this year as the new convention center continues to attract citywide meetings.

“This is one of those high-profile events that are fun to have,” said Jon Lockwood, director of marketing at the Renaissance Washington, DC Hotel.

The 807-room hotel, which is the tournament’s headquarters, has been sold out for months, with guests including ACC officials and the press.

The hotel also will host parties like a University of Maryland alumni receptionfor 1,000 people tomorrow and a brunch for 700 on Saturday.

Accrooms.com, which is run by ERez Resources, sold out of hotel rooms last week as everyone from the teams, alumni clubs and athletic departments to the marching bands, cheerleaders and fans booked their accommodations.

The Charlotte, N.C., agency has contracts with 16 hotels and has booked 8,800 overnight stays. Rates — one of the factors in choosing Washington as the host city — range from $125 to $220 per night, depending on the hotel, Ms. Miller said.

But price doesn’t matter for some basketball fans, who are willing to pay for the more-expensive hotel rooms, said Marilyn Matthews, co-owner of Washington DC Accommodations, a hotel reservation company. On average, visitors are expected to spend more than the government’s per diem rate, which is $153, she said.

“This is a major event for basketball fans — it’s very elite,” Ms. Matthews said. “These are not budget-conscious travelers.”

Restaurants and bars around the MCI Center are enthusiastic about the extra business.

“This will have a huge impact on all the businesses around here,” said Christina Reaves, general manager of the Austin Grill at 750 E St. NW.

“We’re ready for it. We know we’re going to be crazy,” she said.

Gordon Biersch, on F Street NW, is hosting seven private functions during the tournament, including a party for the University of Maryland Terrapin Club on Friday afternoon.

The fest will shut the restaurant to the public.

“We have battened down the hatches,” said Fred Herrmann, general manager of the 320-seat restaurant. “It’s going to be an incredible amount of business.”

The ESPN Zone on 12th Street NW is expecting a substantial increase in sales, particularly from fans who didn’t get tickets to the sold-out games, said Bonnie Downing, regional marketing manager.

Washington last hosted the ACC men’s basketball tournament in 1987 when the games were played at the Capital Centrein Landover. City officials hope Washington will host the tournament again.

The ACC has determined tournament locations through 2010. Officials plan to look for mostly larger venues in the future.

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