Top players from the men's professional tennis tour are arriving today. Construction workers in hard hats are striding through the lobby. New walls appear out of thin air repeatedly, making this walk-through of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel an exercise in resourcefulness.
The hotel is undergoing massive renovations, but for the participants in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, the rooms are ready and waiting. ProServ, the Washington management agency that runs the tennis tournament, last year approached the Wardman Park Hotel about hosting the players. In March, the parties signed a contract, extending a mutually beneficial relationship.
The hotel donates 100 rooms to the tournament and reduces its rate to players who need extra rooms. The tournament allows the hotel and its manager, Marriott International Inc., to use an on-site hospitality tent for several days to court key clients and to place the hotel's logo and name among those of the corporate sponsors of the tournament. Based on its "rack," or lowest, room rate of $249 a night, the Wardman is getting nearly $15,000 in free publicity in exchange for giving away the rooms.
Although no one will give specific numbers, companies typically pay tens of thousands of dollars to be corporate sponsors of this tournament. The publicity helps Marriott sell more hotel rooms nationwide to a captive audience of avid tennis fans who are upper-income consumers, the kind who travel often on business and vacation.
The Legg Mason Classic "is one of the larger ventures that the hotel participates in during the year," said Colleen Evans, spokeswoman for Marriott's hotels in the District. "We find it very worthwhile because the hotel just underwent a $100 million renovation and a change in the management company. In addition, many of the tournament's attendees and supporters are past, current and future clients of the hotel."
By saving on lodging costs, tournament coordinator ProServ can give more money to the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides tennis and education to underprivileged youth.
"Hotel rooms for over 100 players would take up a large portion of our budget, so we needed to find a great hotel that would offer a great rate," said Donald Dell, the tournament's co-founder and a former captain of the Davis Cup men's tennis team. "Now we are able to direct more of the proceeds to the foundation, which is the most important reason for the tournament."
This is the second consecutive year the Wardman, the city's largest convention hotel, has hosted the Legg Mason players. Tournament officials said the hotel on Woodley Avenue at Connecticut Avenue, near the site of the tennis tournament inside the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center at 16th and Kennedy streets NW, is much better situated than other area hotels.
"We were looking for a first-class hotel for our players, sponsors and guests that was centrally located to the tournament site and the amenities that Washington, D.C., has to offer," said Ivan Blumberg, the tournament director.
The Wardman also offers luxury suites, normally costing upwards of $1,900 a night, for free to marquee players, some of whom will be participating because this tournament occupies one of the coveted pre-U.S. Open warm-up weeks on the professional tennis schedule. The hotel gets the opportunity to show off its $100 million upgrade, which features more than $1 million worth of restored antique furniture in the rooms and lobby of the Wardman Park Tower.
Does the hotel have any qualms about hosting athletes? Andre Agassi and Michael Chang, both returning from last year's tennis tournament, represent what Evans labeled the best kind of guests: those who hold no raucous parties, create no disturbances and break no furniture. These are tennis players, after all, not rock stars. "Many of the players travel with their girlfriends or family members," Evans said.
Tennis players aren't terribly demanding, so this event doesn't require the complex preparations of a huge convention, Evans said. Most of the players' needs are met by the tour's trainers and other personnel, and services can be accessed at the tournament's player services desk inside the Wardman's main lobby.
Some players just want the basics in a hotel room. Justin Gimelstob, another top American player who stayed at the Wardman Park last year and returned this year, is most concerned about his room's water pressure.
"Nothing is worse than coming off the court all grimy and going to your hotel in Europe and getting a trickle of water on your head," he said. "If the water coming out of the shower gives you a bruise, that's fine by me."
Evans said Gimelstob shouldn't have to worry. "Actually, he should be quite pleased with the water pressure. The water system is servicing fewer rooms because of the construction, so the pressure for the remaining rooms should be really great."
Sometimes, some players choose not to stay in hotels, opting for the chance to lodge with friends or families.
Rockville native Paul Goldstein, the gold medal winner at the recent Pan American games, will spend his free time during the tournament at his parents' house.
"I cherish the time I get to spend with my family because I'm out on tour 30 weeks during the year," Goldstein said.