Start of session is boost for Annapolis

Local businesses say lawmakers aid economy

General Assembly

January 14, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Forget about getting a room at the Loews Annapolis hotel today or tomorrow. But if you'd like a low-carb Bloody Mary, maybe the 217-room hotel on West Street is your best bet.

Such is the atmosphere in the state capital, where businesses are trying to cater to 188 state legislators who have descended on the city for today's opening of the General Assembly session.

At places such as Loews, where nearly 40 legislators stay for the 90-day session, hotel employees are working to cater to what they say are health-conscious politicians.

At the hotel's popular Thursday night happy hours, bartenders will offer South Beach Diet-friendly cocktails. Politicians can also go to Tuesday morning yoga classes and order low-carb meals.

"If you ask for it, we'll try and get it here," said Chara Hutzell, the hotel's legislative liaison.

It's that time of year in Annapolis - a time when it's hard to find a hotel room, a table at lunch, and especially a parking spot.

Businesses have been gearing up for the invasion of the politicians - as have local officials. The city of Annapolis recently hung 60 American flags around the downtown.

The session comes at an important economic time for Annapolis. Tourism in this historic city along the Chesapeake Bay drops in the winter.

"We're lucky because we don't have that many [economic] dips," said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

Many legislators arrived in Annapolis yesterday because both parties were holding caucuses, and their legislative aides compared yesterday to the calm before the storm.

Mike Dunn, a legislative assistant to Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., a Cecil County Republican, spent yesterday afternoon sorting mail and organizing his office but knew that the next 90 days would be exhausting.

"It's going to be a 50-yard dash almost the entire way," he said.

Dunn said he enjoyed his work but acknowledged that he was dreading the nearly four-hour daily commute from his home in Elkton to Annapolis.

Many legislators choose to stay in Annapolis for the session. Loews is offering a 90-day package for lobbyists and politicians. The hotel charges $96 a day - the housing allowance for lawmakers - which includes breakfast.

Hutzell said that about 40 people have signed up for the package, and that there are several nights when the hotel is completely sold out.

Several other downtown establishments, including the O'Callaghan Hotel on West Street, also do not have any available rooms for the next several days.

"If we had two hotels, we wouldn't have enough space [some nights]," Hutzell said.

Hutzell said some lawmakers had asked for improvements to the hotel gym and healthier meals. So the restaurant will have more high-protein, low-carb fare as well as virgin drinks.

"It used to be they would go from one big steakhouse to the next [during the session], and I think lawmakers don't want to do that anymore," she said.

Politicians sometimes choose to rent apartments or homes for the session.

Del. Eric M. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat, is sharing an apartment with Del. Jon S. Cardin, another Democrat from Baltimore County. "It's tough to drive 45 minutes home at night," Bromwell said.

Bromwell stayed in a hotel last year but decided to move this year because, he said, hotels "are nice for a week or two, but then it gets old."

Regardless of where they stay, legislators, their aides and others who attend the session provide a boost to the Annapolis economy.

City officials aren't sure how much money the session pumps into the city but local businesses say the session is vital.

Early yesterday afternoon, Shannon Ross, the manager of the City Dock Coffee shop on Maryland Avenue, said she had served about 200 cups of coffee. She said that number rises to about 400 by that hour during the session.

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