About 150 events and more than 80 performers, including gospel singer Shirley Ceasar and soul songsters Gladys Knight and the Pips, are expected to appear this weekend as the new convention center hosts its first Capital City Community Festival, a three-day affair designed to bring the center closer to the community.
National corporations, area businesses, local artists, D.C. government agencies and community organizations are all included in the list of exhibitors for this weekend's festival.
In the months since its official inauguration December 10, the center has far exceeded expectations, hosting more than 50 events and an estimated 600,000 people from the Washington area and elsewhere, according to Alan Grip, the convention center's assistant general manager. Grip said the center expects about 75,000 Washington-area people this weekend.
"We expect to receive more than 156,000 out-of-towners in 1983," he added. "This is an opportunity for the local community to see and enjoy the center."
Grip said that the free community festival has long been planned. "We wanted to do this at the opening, but there was still too much construction under way, so we set aside the first three consecutive days we had for the festival."
Grip said Gladys Knight and the Pips and Ceasar were scheduled by the Phoenix Group International, which has the contract to run the event. Tonight's Gladys Knight concert and Ceasar's tomorrow will be in the center's 100,000-square-foot exhibit Hall A, with the audience seated in groups around tables.
Last year, Congress removed restrictions that barred the center from booking concerts or sports events.
"We won't start booking commercial concerts until after our cushioned, raised, auditorium-style seating is in place, in late November or early December," Grip said. "But concerts and sports events are not that high a priority for us. Our objective has always been the multiple-day, out-of-town convention or trade show that brings in an average of $500 a day per visitor for the city."
Ronald Lee, president of Phoenix Group International, said the city hopes to defray part of the cost of the event with ticket sales for the three concerts. Tickets for the Gladys Knight show sold out two days after the concert was announced.
The center's enormous exhibit halls and lobbies were gradually filling up yesterday with some of the exhibits, ranging from the Indonesian Embassy's stunning display of woodcarvings and textiles to the Source Theatre's booth stacked with promotional material.
Lee said one of the festival's main goals was to introduce the center to residents of the Washington area.