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Inaugural Event Pace Quickens in D.C.

Inaugural Event Pace Quickens in D.C.

With only days to go before the series of celebrations tied to the Jan. 20 inauguration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, the event machine in Washington is in high gear.

On Thursday, Lanham, Md.-based Hargrove--a major contractor for every presidential inaugural since Harry S Truman took office in 1949--shifted to round-the-clock operations, reports company spokesman Marvin A. Bond. As official general contractor for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, Hargove is at work fabricating stages and other decor for the 10 official inaugural balls and seven parade floats, along with decor for related events.

Hargrove will handle more than 40 official and private events in more than 30 venues over a six-day period, Bond reports. The company is using 45,000 board feet of lumber, 3,000 sheets of plywood, 500 gallons of paint, 400 rolls of carpet, 100,000 yards of fabric and 100,000 square feet of signs, seals, banners and other graphics to help create the decor."The hype about more events open to the public and more public participation is true, and there are new clients," he says, "as is often the case in a new administration."


The event roster for Landover, Md.-based rental company Perfect Settings is twice what the company saw four years ago, founder Peter Grazzini tells Special Events. "So far I am providing equipment to 198 events over four days, Saturday through Thursday," he says. "This is my seventh inaugural, and by far the largest I have ever seen."

Short lead times are bedeviling local event professionals. Only Sunday, Grazzini landed an event for 1,000 guests. "I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to get everything in place on time," he says. "There are so many wild cards that it is impossible to be sure. The big ones are the weather; I heard today that it is going to get very cold by the end of the week--the 'S' [snow] word is not in the forecast, and I pray it stays that way. Security also could become an even bigger problem than it already is if someone calls in some kind of threat or some intelligence report comes out and they decide to just shut down some random street at the last minute, it could be a mess."

Indeed, strict security measures have hit an "almost absurd" level, notes Dale Harmon, special events coordinator for Silver Spring, Md.-based event-foliage provider Plants Alive. Bridges from Virginia to the district will be closed to vehicles. Event professionals will have to get all their equipment and supplies in place early, he says. "The two businesses to be in are refrigerated trucks and security!" he jokes.

Harmon notes his business was still picking up jobs on Monday, but on the whole, this year's inaugural is on par with earlier events.

Inaugural business is good for Halethorpe, Md.-based production company Showcall USA, according to company cofounder Ajay Patil. However, 2009 continues to be "scary as hell as events have canceled or downsized," he notes. He hopes that as the year goes on, corporations will "relax" and resume normal operations. "In the final analysis, inaugural is always a unique, nutty, insane time of year for D.C.-area vendors," he says. "We all moan about it, but are thankful for the business nonetheless, as usually January is icy and quiet around here."

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