By Marissa Newhall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Washington Party-Planning Economics 101: Make it memorable, and make it big.
That might explain why Washington's movers and shakers are lining up -- for as much as $30,000 -- to hold court at the Newseum, the Pennsylvania Avenue attraction that officially opens tomorrow. Aside from its slick, much-hyped exhibits on news history and journalism ethics, the glass behemoth houses more than 24,000 square feet of high-end event space and amenities, ready to cater to Washington organizations with deep pockets.
Pam Galloway-Tabb, the Newseum's vice president of general services, says her staff has already booked events well into next year, from dinners, receptions and conferences to weddings, bar mitzvahs and movie premieres. There have already been a few parties at the Newseum, including a Newseum-sponsored Gridiron Club luncheon last month, a SOME (So Others Might Eat) seated dinner in December and the splashy "Meet the Press" 60th anniversary party in November.
What does it take to be at the top of the venue heap? Amenities and location are key, but there are also upsides simply to being a new destination, says Danielle O'Steen, associate editor of the Washington arm of BizBash Media, an event-industry trade publication.
"The Newseum is counting on its two-level conference center to bring in major revenue," O'Steen wrote in an e-mail. But: "Location absolutely helps a venue's success in Washington. Events that cater to politicians with busy schedules generally have to compete with parallel functions. That's when having the new venue on the block could pay off."
Especially if you're trying to break even. The Newseum, which cost $450 million to build, will charge $20 general admission, but needs other ways to net cash. With room rental fees ranging from $500 to $30,000, depending on the time of day and space used, the event facilities provide a boost.
For meetings and small gatherings, the seventh- and eighth-floor conference center's rooms can be divided to accommodate varying head counts. Room fees include tables, chairs, china and glassware; linens and audio-visual equipment, such as projectors and laptop computers, are available at extra cost.
More ambitious event planners can use the Newseum's main space (but only after general-admission hours). The first-floor atrium, with soaring glass walls and a 40-by-22-foot video screen (visible from the street), can accommodate 500 at a seated dinner or 3,000 at a cocktail party. Also available is the museum's interactive space on the second floor, with closed-circuit video cameras, digital editing kiosks and the touch-table-bedecked Ethics Room, which can be kept open after hours and placed at guests' disposal. A 535-seat theater is one more venue.
Another draw is celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, whose company runs the in-house restaurant, the Source, and exclusively caters everything under the Newseum's roof. That means custom menus for buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners, plus extras such as the "partyvators" -- the museum's three glass elevators, each of which can hold 55 people, that are outfitted with love seats and illuminated Lucite "glow bars" that dispense custom Wolfgang Puck cocktails to everyone inside.
O'Steen says bringing in a celebrity chef caterer could be a way to generate "quite a bit of buzz." Making the celebrity chef caterer exclusive, though, could also be a way to generate profit. Jeroen Quint, general manager for Wolfgang Puck Catering at the Newseum, says only that catering prices vary, based on the number of guests and other factors such as rental prices for glow bars -- which "come in many different shapes and sizes and can be any color of the rainbow."