Published January 16, 2009
The chances of a Super Bowl coming to Washington, D.C., anytime soon may be slim, no offense to the Skins. But the nation's capital will reap the benefits of an even bigger bash when President-elect Barack Obama and his donors throw Inauguration Day LVI.
The tourism trade in Washington is expecting a tsunami of cash from inauguration-goers who will be hitting up the hotels, bars, restaurants, shops and special events throughout the city over the next four days.
While an economic downturn is taking its toll on local governments and businesses across the country, officials in D.C. are preparing for 2 to 4 million people to head into the city by Tuesday. Talk about stimulus.
"There's visitors coming here from all over the world," said Chris Knudson, with the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. He said economic impact projections for the next four days range from $700 million to $1 billion.
The biggest chunk of that is from hotel stays. According to Destination DC, hotels are usually about 50 percent full in a typical off-season January. But 98 percent of rooms in the city were booked as of Friday, the day tourists begin to descend on the city.
For weeks, the expected influx has had the restaurant industry thinking up creative ways to tap into inauguration fever.
Mie N Yu in Georgetown, for instance, is extending its hours, hiring DJs and serving presidential-themed cocktails for the long weekend.
One of those is called Rockin' Barack, "an energy cocktail," according to marketing coordinator Mike Cherner. The other is the Michelle-Tini. "It's a classy tall drink with flare for modern style," Cherner explained.
Cherner said the restaurant has 1,200 reservations on the books through Inauguration Day.
"The entire economy will get a boost, not just one region or a couple of regions," he said. "We're probably looking at close to 2,000 people coming through our door this weekend, and that doesn't include our bar and lounges."
Aside from the 10 official inaugural balls on Tuesday, there are a host of unofficial parties and celebrations throughout the weekend and early next week. The Smithsonian American Art Museum plays host to the Lincoln 2.0 Inaugural Ball on Sunday. The eco-friendly Green Inaugural Ball is set for Saturday night in downtown Washington. Even a Hawaii-theme Aloha Inaugural Ball is set for Sunday.
D.C. restaurants and bars, many of which are serving alcohol until 4 a.m. (thanks to a temporary measure from the D.C. Council), are eager to catch the foot traffic from all of those public and private events.
The upfront cost for the mega-party, which will at least run close to $100 million, is footed in part by taxpayers, and in part by private donations. The Presidential Inaugural Committee is expected to bring in close to $45 million for the festivities, and the federal government has allocated $49 million. But even a $49 million inauguration would make P. Diddy's "White Party" look like an office Christmas lunch.
David Umansky, spokesman for the DC chief financial officer, said the overall effect on the city's budget will not be "that significant," considering the city has a $5.5 billion budget for fiscal 2009.
But Theresa Belpulsi, tourism vice president for Destination DC, said no one will know the real impact until after the dust settles. She said businesses are expecting the inauguration to net them considerably more money than in 2005.
Recession, rechmession. Belpulsi said Inauguration Day is easily Washington's Superbowl -- or even its Olympics.
"It's probably going to be a very big hit," she said.
FOXNews.com's Judson Berger contributed to this report.