The House and Senate Appropriations committees have imposed restrictions on the new Washington Convention Center that would effectively prevent it from being used for sporting events, concerts and theatrical performances.
The restrictions were greeted yesterday with surprise by some top D.C. government officials who said they had hoped for more flexibility in operating the $98.7 million convention center, scheduled to open in January.
City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers complained about the restrictions in a telephone call yesterday afternoon to Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District of Columbia. "I told him that they seemed to be excessively restrictive and he said that he was willing to look at the matter when it gets to the (House-Senate) conference committee," Rogers said.
However, George W. Demarest Jr., general manager of the center, and several congressional aides insisted yesterday that the provision for the first time legally spelled out the intent of Congress and reflected the convention board's own policy for leasing space.
"You must look at the language in light of our booking policy," Demarest said, "and that is to serve as a showcase for conventions and trade shows that impact on hotels. Our initial market thrust is not rock concerts and sporting events."
The restrictive language was added to the 1983 D.C. budget appropriations bill by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and by the Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday.
Congressional sources said that Abe Pollin, chairman of the Capital Centre in Landover, had urged adoption of the restrictions, at one point discussing the matter with Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Senate D.C. appropriations subcommittee.
Pollin could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Congress first authorized spending for the center near Mount Vernon Square in 1978, after lengthy debate and with an eye to boosting the city's convention trade and hotel industry.
Although city officials considered the possibility of leasing space for occasional concerts and theater-style events, the major aim was to attract large international and national conventions, trade shows, meetings and other flat-floor exhibitions.
Center officials recently sought approval to spend $2.3 million for 10,000 theater-style seats on retractable risers for use at conventions.
Members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees went along with the request, but instructed the convention center, in its booking policy, to limit the use of the seating equipment to conventions and trade shows and not to use it for entertainment not connected with convention activities.
A spokesman for the convention center said yesterday that only one businessman had proposed staging a concert at the convention center, but received a discouraging response from the convention center board.
Of the 40 events already scheduled for 1983, 21 are public shows, such as automobile exhibitions, and 19 are national conventions or large trade shows, according to the center spokesman.