Friday, December 5, 2008

Federal officials Thursday granted Inauguration Day visitors access to the entire 146 acres of the Mall to accommodate the expected record crowds for the presidential swearing-in of Barack Obama.

“Ever since [Mr. Obama’s] election, the indications have been clear pretty early on that we would be expecting a large number of people to show up,” said Kevin Griffis, a Presidential Inaugural Committee spokesman. “This will give more people than ever an opportunity to celebrate the inaugural.”

Although 240,000 tickets are available to the public, hundreds of thousands more on the Mall likely will be able to see the Capitol Hill ceremony only on video screens.

The area of the Mall that will be open Jan. 20 was used as a staging area for past inaugural parades.

The inauguration committee said it made the decision in conjunction with the D.C. government, the National Park Service, the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee and the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

“National parks unite all of us as Americans,” said National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar, “and the ‘welcome mat’ will be out for Americans to gather on the National Mall as we inaugurate our new president.”

The Metropolitan Police Department will increase its numbers by 4,000 to help with crowd control and secure the parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest.

“This will be an inauguration for all Americans,” said D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat. “And so we are dedicated to opening it up so that people from across the country can gather together in America’s front yard. We remain hard at work to ensure the day’s festivities are safe and accessible for visitors, residents and businesses.”

The change will have no significant impact on the Secret Service’s security plans, agency spokesman Malcolm Wiley said.

“We all understand that this is going to be a historic event and the crowds will be reflective of that,” he said. “President-elect Obama has drawn large crowds in the campaign cycle. This doesn’t alter what we were already planning for. This is no big deal to us.”

The record Inauguration Day crowd is 1.2 million, set in 1965 for Lyndon B. Johnson.

The District already has been busy making preparations for record-breaking numbers.

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to extend the hours that bars can serve drinks to 5 a.m., from Jan. 17 to Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration, as a way to accommodate visitors and increase food and alcohol sales.

“We were working together with the Presidential Inauguration Committee to help make this possible,” said Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson. “We are expecting an unprecedented amount of visitors to the city and to give additional space to those coming here is definitely something [Mr. Fenty] is in favor of.”

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