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As Planners Search for Inauguration Venues, More Parties Take Shape

Washington is only so big, and the demand for inauguration party venues is getting cutthroat, despite (or possibly because of) the lack of an inauguration schedule from President-elect Barack Obama's team. The Washington Post reported this morning that the search for space on January 20 keeps getting tougher for planners, and the few unclaimed venues left have already increased fees to make the most of the refreshingly competitive market. 

Media outlets, nonprofits, and countless other private institutions looking to host parties have showed up unannounced at venues and dropped money on the spot to not be left high and dry. Harman Center for the Arts director of booking and partnerships Kay Williams told The Post that “all hell broke loose” the day after the election. “The first group came through the building, looked around and said, 'We want it,'“ she said of Creative Coalition, which, as we reported earlier, picked Harman for its ball. “We told them we would put it on hold until we had the deposit. They said okay, picked up the phone and called their office and asked for a wire transfer. They walked out and 10 minutes later, another person with a check came in and I had to say they missed it.”

A lot of people missed it. The rush for space started long before Obama’s November 4 victory. The Pennsylvania Avenue JW Marriott sold its $1 million “Build Your Own Ball” package to an unnamed planner days before the election, and the newly reopened Newseum was booked a month in advance—though part of the museum will be open to the public through 11:00 p.m. on Inauguration Day. Space everywhere else is so limited, MTV is reportedly still shopping around for a place to call home for the night.

Not everyone is homeless though. The Wall Street Journal announced several other confirmed parties today. President George W. Bush’s low approval ratings haven’t dampened interest in his home state’s big party, the Texas State Society Black Tie & Boots ball. Organizers confirmed that they've already sold around 9,500 tickets to the gaudy Southern fete scheduled for the night before the inauguration at the new Gaylord National Resort. And Monday night isn't just for Texans. The Swamp reports that the Illinois Inaugural Gala will take over the Renaissance Washington D.C. that night, and 1,500 of the $500 tickets are already taken.

Many events still haven't released tickets—or pricing. Access to the 2,000 capacity “Equity Ball,” thrown by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, could be available as soon as next week, but organizers have yet to settle on a price tag. Expected celebrity attendance for the largely gay and lesbian event at the Mayflower Hotel already includes musicians Melissa Etheridge, Cyndi Lauper, and Rufus Wainwright.

Famous faces will be in no short supply. The Wall Street Journal posits that celebrity attendance could be unlike anything Washington has seen in the past. Many well-known Obama supporters, who bowed out of the spotlight when Senator John McCain began criticizing his opponent’s ties to Hollywood, are expected to be on hand for the celebrations.

And you can count Dionne Warwick and Oprah Winfrey among them. Washingtonian broke news yesterday that the Grammy-winning singer put a hold on rooms at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel before the election, hoping to host a party should Obama win. Now that she’s gotten her way, Warwick is expected to announce her “American Music Inaugural Ball” in the coming days, and as many as 5,000 guests are already expected. As for Winfrey, The Washington Post suggests the vocal Obama enthusiast plans to host three episodes of her syndicated talk show from Washington during inauguration week. She may have already reached out to the Kennedy Center to discuss the venue's availability as a shooting location.

In terms of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet reported that Bill Daley is likely to co-chair the team, which is tasked with striking ''a balance in the celebrationnot over-the-top opulent because of the horrible economybut some decent parties to show the world the U.S. is not in a depression.”


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