By Aimee Chen and Will Mendelson Medill News Service
WASHINGTON — Plans for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in January are in full swing. A reviewing stand is under construction in front of the White House, congressional offices are taking ticket requests and planners are mapping out parade logistics and street closures.
But if a crush of well-wishers is hoping to descend on the nation’s capital as it did four years ago, when 1.8 million people crowded into the city to be a part of his history-making swearing-in, their preparations are off to a much more leisurely start.
Rand Goodman, director of sales and marketing at the JW Marriott hotel, along the Pennsylvania Avenue route of the inaugural parade, said interest so far has not been the same as it was at this point four years ago, but he was optimistic.
“For D.C., this is our Super Bowl and Oscar all rolled into one,” Goodman said. “This is a major event for the city, so there’s a lot of demand, and a lot of availability right now.”
The inauguration falls this time on Monday, Jan. 21, which is also the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As the first African-American to be sworn in as president, Obama’s first inaugural was a momentous event, with an appeal and electricity that likely could not be replicated under any circumstances
“It was just an amazing experience,” said Juana Turner of Los Angeles. “I booked my flight early in November. We weren’t looking for a four-star hotel or anything like that. We just wanted an accommodation.”
But Turner, who works in the information technology department at California State University, Dominguez Hills, said she’s unsure whether she will make a second trip.
Many hotels are not fully booked yet. But many also require a four-night minimum stay, which could be a drawback for cost-conscious inaugural-goers. The industry, however, is counting on people looking for lodging for the entire four-day weekend.
“It’s not just one-day festivities,” said Edward Baten, general manager of the W Washington D.C. hotel, across from the Treasury Department and within sight of the reviewing stand.
The Mayflower Renaissance hotel, which has hosted inaugural balls since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second term, already had started accepting reservations prior to the election and was expecting to have a “good turnout,” said director of sales Keith McClinsey.
“The election was only a few weeks ago, but we’re about 50 percent sold out,” he said. “They’re forming the presidential inaugural committee, and we expect that’ll increase the demand as well. So we’re confident we will sell out, probably by mid-December at the latest.”
For nearly $3 million, the JW Marriott will offer half the hotel – 300 rooms, plus some suites – for a single booking. In 2009, it rented out the hotel over the inaugural weekend to a wealthy businessman who gave the rooms to wounded soldiers, abused women, children from low-income families and others
Thanks to the traffic the inauguration brings in every four years, the local hotel and entertainment industry usually get a major financial boost, as do city coffers. The W hotel expects January income to surge about 50 percent.
“There are so many people who were unable to participate in 2009 who don’t want to let this opportunity slip by them,” Baten said. “We do have some groups who have signed a contract prior to the election,” no matter who won.
Besides hotels, there’s always Craigslist to look for alternative accommodations from people willing to rent out their homes for the weekend. But as with many hotels, some postings for private homes, apartments or condos require a four-night minimum, and the prices aren’t cheap. One four-night rental listed as three blocks from the Capitol was asking $900 per night.
Meanwhile, four years ago, the popular Oval Room restaurant, just across Lafayette Square from the White House, had a special event for the inauguration, but is not this year.
Charlie Palmer Steak rented out private spaces in the restaurant in 2009, though not this time. But the Old Ebbitt Grill, another venerable Washington watering hole and restaurant, is already booked and closed for a private event.
The Newseum, a news museum along the parade route, expects to sell out a special event that offers video feeds of the inauguration, as well as a prime viewing spot to see the marching bands and other attractions.
Inaugural tickets can be obtained through congressional offices for free. Most use a random lottery system. Deadlines for requesting tickets vary from Dec. 7 to Dec. 16.
But they go fast.
“The demand for tickets has always far surpassed our office’s ticket allotment,” according to a press release from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.