Despite rave reviews from 250 executives of trade and professional associations who were guests at the formal opening of Washington's convention center last weekend, a few left with nagging concerns about the new facility's location.
At a black-tie dinner and tour of the center Friday night, for example, an executive with the American Academy of Pediatrics worried that no major hotels have been built near the $100 million facility that hosts its first trade show on Jan. 5.
The academy has held several meetings in the District, but the executive said members were hesitant about scheduling their major convention here because the area surrounding the convention center is devoid of major hotels.
Locally, questions also have been raised about the relative absence of new development in the immediate vicinity of the convention center, even though that apparently has not affected bookings at the facility. More than 100 conventions, trade shows and other events have been scheduled through 1993.
Nevertheless, potential users of the convention center and some in the local community share the perception that the facility hasn't yet lived up to its billing as the much-needed stimulus for further development in an eroding down-town core.
The concern within the American Academy of Pediatrics apparently isn't unique among major professional and trade associations, even though the number of bookings tends to indicate otherwise. Although it hasn't created a problem yet, a preference for more hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center has been conveyed by some potential users, the president of the Washington Convention and Visitors Association confirmed.
But as Austin Kenny, the association's executive vice president, pointed out earlier this week, that's a minor consideration and a temporary one at that. Once the national economy begins to show signs of improving, hotel developers will proceed with projects they were forced to postpone, Kenny indicated.
What detractors seem to be forgetting is that hotels and other commercial projects that were being considered for construction near the convention center have been delayed because of the developers' inability to obtain long-term financing in an uncertain economy and interest-rate crunch.
Kenny predicted that "hotels will be built" near the center "as soon as financing is available."
Postponements or delays in hotel construction notwithstanding, Washington has the fourth-largest concentration of hotel rooms among convention cities, trailing only New York, Chicago and Las Vegas.
Besides, there is no large concentration of hotels near Chicago's major trade and exhibit center or adjacent to the new convention center being built in New York, Kenny points out, adding that sponsors of major conventions typically run shuttle services between convention halls and hotels.
To be sure, development around the Washington Convention Center hasn't proceeded as expected. But construction of new hotels and renovation of others in Washington's old downtown core east of 15th Street NW will produce an increase in rooms of between 15 and 20 percent next year.
Indeed, more than 3,000 hotel rooms are under construction or are scheduled to be built by 1985. All are either within walking distance or a short cab ride from the convention center.
A study of the potential for hotel development, which Gladestone Associates of Washington prepared for a client last spring, concluded that advance bookings of 90 national conventions here over the next 10 years could support 750 new hotel rooms.
"As development pressure pushes office development eastward toward Capitol Hill, "it is likely that hotels will follow," the Gladstone study projected. "The unavailability of land or extreme price levels of currently available parcels are likely to force hotel development to areas not too recently considered marginal."
With a 14 percent increase in the number of hotel rooms built in the city last year and 1,300 or more rooms being added by mid-1983, "We're delivering the product," Kenny maintains.
Somehow that message hasn't gotten across in some quarters, despite convention center bookings that will add more than $300 million to the local economy over the next 10 years.
With the competition for convention and trade business made tougher by more cities building major facilities, the District may find it necessary to tell its story louder and clearer.