The rumors were finally confirmed Wednesday: After 12 years on the Mall, the National Book Festival is moving to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
Word that the National Park Service was concerned about pedestrian damage to the grass first broke in September, just as the 2013 festival was about to begin.
The Library of Congress staff tried to figure out some way to address the Park Service’s concerns, but ultimately, no feasible compromise was reached. More than 200,000 people attended last year’s two-day literary event.
Stephen Lorenzetti, the Park Service’s deputy superintendent for planning at the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said, “There are new procedures to make sure that the grass survives. This can make it more expensive for events to take place.
“We worked closely with the library to allow the festival to continue at a reasonable cost. We showed them how they might use the walkways and the roadways. But in the end, the library decided that it was more affordable to move to a different venue. We respect their decision.”
Jennifer Gavin, project manager of the Library of Congress National Book Festival, was disappointed with the change of venue but said that she and her staff are determined to make the new setting as enjoyable as possible.
“We spent months working with the Park Service to see if we could make this work,” she said. “But when we looked at the costs — and they were considerable — we decided that the festival-goers would be better served by moving it into the convention center.”
The special matting used to protect the Mall during the presidential inaugural would have added a significant expense to the festival budget.
Although the picnic atmosphere will be lost in the convention center, there will be some important advantages to moving indoors.
“It’s going to allow us to do some things we couldn’t do on the Mall,” Gavin said. For instance, the festival won’t have to end at sundown anymore. That change will allow the Library of Congress to add evening events. Chief among these will be a pavilion called “Great Books to Great Movies,” which will offer a panel discussion with film-industry experts and screenings of classic movies from the library’s enormous collection.
And there’s very good news for foodies: “We’re hoping to explore a venue for cookbook authors involving actual cooking demonstrations,” Gavin said. “We couldn’t do that on the Mall.” (The library’s contract prohibited the use of cooking equipment without approval from the concessionaire who has the food contract for the Mall.)
Additional “genre pavilions” are also being considered.
A news release issued by the Library of Congress noted that “the move to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center will provide many more seats for festival-goers and protection from both heat and rain.” Last year, attendees got soaked, and high temperatures have been a health concern in previous years.
In other changes, the 2014 festival, set for Aug. 30, is returning to a one-day schedule, but the addition of evening hours will leave the total number of authors at about 100 — the same offered over two days last year.
The Washington Post is a charter sponsor of the National Book Festival.