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Dreaming of Dollars, Organizers Extend Cherry Blossom Festival

This year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival is sure to lure millions of people to the nation’s capital. It also will lure millions of dollars to the region.

The festival celebrates the spring blooming of 3,000 cherry trees that line the tidal basin on the National Mall. The trees were a gift to the United States from Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki, who presented them in 1912. To commemorate the centennial mark, organizers have extended the event from 16 days to five weeks, lasting from March 20 to April 27.

With the expansion comes the hope that the already lucrative event will serve as an even greater source of revenue for the city and its merchants.

At a news conference today announcing the festival’s roster of events, District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray encouraged regulars and first-timers to spend, spend, spend during the spring bonanza. 

“We invite everyone to spend every dime they possibly have,” Gray said. “And yes, we take credit cards and checks. And we’ll even take your IOU.”

Last year the event generated $126 million, as more than 1 million attendees witnessed the blooming of Washington’s most famous trees and participated in a flurry of family-oriented activities.

In tight economic times, Gray and organizers are eager for a financial performance that passes the 2011 mark. 

“[It’s] a huge contribution to our economy,” Gray told Roll Call. “We think it will be even more this year because of the fact that it’s the centennial celebration, so we’re excited about that especially given the economic challenges we and the entire nation have endured over the last three and a half to four years.”

Danielle Piacente, communications manager for the festival, is equally optimistic.

“The economic impact to Washington, D.C., is tremendous,” she said.

More than 40 sponsors have helped bankroll the event, according to Diana Mayhew, president of the festival. But extending the length of the event has also led to an increase in operating costs.

According to Mayhew, the budget for this year reached $4 million, nearly double from years past. The additional cost will cover the extension of the festival and the addition of new events and exhibitions.

A stand-alone opening ceremony will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on March 25. The ceremony will use performance art to demonstrate the origins of the gift of trees and how the cherry blossom has gained such widespread fame.

The National Gallery of Art is partnering with the festival to host the Japanese exhibit “Colorful Realm of Living Beings,” a collection of paintings never fully showcased outside Japan.

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