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CVC Watch

With Congressional officials expecting the Capitol Visitor Center to triple annual tourist numbers for Capitol Hill, local tourism companies and groups that market Washington, D.C., already are thinking ahead to the day when the facility’s massive bronze doors finally are thrown open to the public.

And while projected opening dates for the CVC have come and gone in the past, the Architect of the Capitol’s recent move to organize a “transition support team” means that project managers are really, truly turning their focus from construction matters to the operational issues that will affect tourism groups. [IMGCAP(1)]

From a marketing standpoint, AOC officials said they recognize that if they are going to hit the 3 million visitor mark in the first year the CVC is open, it won’t simply be a matter of “if you build it, they will come.”

“There are plans over the course of the several months leading up to the projected opening of the CVC to conduct outreach to various organizations as part of a public awareness campaign,” AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said. “In addition, there are plans to hire a marketing and communications manager early in the hiring process. These efforts will be completed in the 12 months leading up to the official opening.”

Rebecca Pawlowski, director of communications for the Washington, DC Convention & Tourism Corp. — the city’s lead marketing organization — said the opening of the CVC will be a major selling point for the city.

“It’s definitely something that will be included in our marketing materials and … [highlighted] when we bring journalists into town,” said Pawlowski, who noted that several senior leaders of her group have taken tours of the CVC since construction began.

“We’ll try to look to see if there are good themes and good ways to tie the opening of the Capitol Visitor Center into other major events in D.C,” she said.

At least for now, the CVC is expected to open in September 2008 and Pawlowski suggested that a “patriotic theme” might work well in marketing materials that also showcase the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which is set for a grand reopening next summer after almost two years of renovations.

But the 2008 deadline isn’t set in stone. Government Accountability Office analysts providing progress reports on the CVC aren’t optimistic the project can be finished in 16 months. (The center once was expected to open by January 2005.) Nevertheless, Pawlowski said interest from the D.C. tourism community is only growing.

“It’s a construction deadline and I think everyone who works in the tourism industry knows that those can change,” she said.

She noted that as CVC operational issues begin to be decided, tourism companies and local historical groups are getting more interested in how they will be allowed to use the CVC.

“We’re hoping it’s going to make it a lot easier to get the groups into the Capitol,” said Tracy Hale, president of Capital City Tours Inc., which has been operating in the city for 11 years. “When it does open I think it’s going to be easier to get groups in there and we’ll be under cover so logistically it’ll be a lot better for large groups.”

Hale said that more than just a starting point for Capitol tours, the CVC will be seen as a destination with its museum, 550-seat cafeteria and large indoor gathering space.

But, she said, “we’re waiting to see how the drop-off and pick-ups will be routed with the security around there. It’s already very hard for the bus companies as far as driving around the Capitol Hill area. I’m hoping it gets better.”

Will Phillips, director of U.S. operations for City Segway Tours of Washington, D.C., said with 3 million people expected to visit the CVC, his company is interested in having a place inside the facility where information about Segway tours can be posted or distributed. He added that his company also is interested in finding out if Segway riders will be allowed on the large pedestrian plaza that will sit above the underground CVC and house unique historical artwork such as the Capitol’s Olmsted lanterns.

“It sounds like it’ll be a beautifully done area and obviously people want to look as closely as they can so we absolutely will want to be able to use that space, but I honestly don’t know if it’s going to be open to Segway use or not,” Phillips said.

Other operational issues that have been raised in recent months by Congress and outside groups include concerns over visitor flow patterns in the facility and whether the Capitol Historical Society — which for more than 30 years has operated a kiosk in the Capitol Crypt — will be granted space in the CVC.

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