D.C.’s official convention and sports authority announced Thursday it is creating an $18 million relief package to aid local hospitality and tourism industries hit hard by a novel coronavirus crisis that has put a record number of people out of work.
Days after the City Council passed its second emergency relief bill since the COVID-19 pandemic reached the District, Events DC says it is digging into its own reserves to support more than 80,000 people employed across restaurants and hotels.
Along with overseeing the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and Nationals Park, Events DC brings in revenue from taxes collected from D.C. hotels and restaurants. President and CEO Greg O’Dell tells Eater that some of that revenue will support the $18 million fund.
“We obviously felt like it was appropriate to use those reserves,” he says.
A $5 million chunk of the fund will be set aside for programs to aid undocumented workers, who have so far been left out of relief legislation even though they don’t qualify for unemployment. Another $5 million will go toward supporting hospitality and restaurant recovery efforts for both workers and operators. Hotel recovery efforts will get $5 million, and the remaining $3 million will go toward marketing efforts focusing on bringing visitors back to D.C.
“We recognize the broader issue of undocumented workers — we’ll likely find programs focused on or platforms to facilitate payment,” O’Dell says.
Events DC is working with the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington to manage part of the fund, as well as a “couple other” groups tied to relief efforts. RAMW and Events DC already have a tight relationship. The glitzy RAMMYs awards gala is held at the convention center every year.
RAMW President and CEO Kathy Hollinger sent Eater a statement saying the trade association will work on administering programs for operator and worker relief funds.
“The funds approved by Events DC today are a great step in the right direction particularly as operators are waiting on larger federal relief and additional guidance to receive that relief,” Hollinger says. “We have worked very closely with Events DC over the years and are appreciative of their willingness to hear what the immediate needs are in our local restaurant community.”
While Events DC is an independent authority, D.C.’s deputy mayor sits on its board and signed off on releasing emergency funding. O’Dell says D.C. Mayor Mayor Muriel Bowser was also a proponent of the relief effort.
“We understand there is relief and stimulus money coming, but we felt the immediate need to do this sooner than later,” O’Dell says, calling the fact restaurants are closing and laying off workers a “travesty.”
Events DC just gave the go-ahead for Nationals Park to flip into a huge community kitchen that chef José Andrés’s global nonprofit is using to dish out thousands of free meals a day while the Major League Baseball season is on pause.
Events DC is exploring converting its convention center for public health use, and O’Dell says he’s working with the city on feasibility analysis studies.