The Washington State Governor’s Inaugural Ball Committee says it is changing the venue for its 2013 event in January, moving it from the state Capitol to Saint Martin’s University in Lacey. The idea is to make it easier to park and the indoor venue avoid the steps of the Capitol and outdoor tents and heaters on the typically frigid January night. But it looks like the festive event is destined for a controversy.
Jim Cooper, a Democrat and member of the Olympia City Council, says he is drafting a resolution for the council that would urge the ball’s organizers to reconsider their move. And Democratic state Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia says he is drafting a protest letter for other lawmakers to sign.
“I’m kind of worked up about it not being in Olympia. It’s the state capital, the government is in Olympia and I don’t think the university is a proper venue,” Cooper said, adding he created a Facebook page last night on the topic.
“I’m going to ask my City Council to pass a resolution asking the inaugural ball committee to reconsider their decision … It’s the capital city and we need to roll out the red carpet in our town for the governor, regardless of who it is,’’ Cooper said.
Cooper and Hunt may be too late.
Lisa Cosmillo, a spokeswoman for the inaugural party, said the nonprofit group has entered into a contract with the private college for use of its pavilion and adjoining Worthington Center, which together have space for 5,000 people indoors. The ball committee announced its formal plans for the Jan. 16 party this week.
“I haven’t heard anything about that,’’ Cosmillo said of Cooper and Hunt’s efforts to change the venue. “We were trying to make it more accessible. Parking is always a huge issue at the Capitol so we’ve had to bus people and do shuttles. We also have all the stairs people have to contend with inside. We were trying to make it something that anybody can attend.’’
The Capitol grounds were a public venue but even with costs to rent private space, Cosmillo said it appears the new venue costs will be “a wash and it’s a lot more convenient” not to have people outdoors in tents that need to be heated.
She said events also have been held historically in many venues – with the past three decades being in and around the domed and stately Legislative Building.
A history of the ball – see it here – says territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens’ welcoming dinner was at Olympia’s long-since-gone Gallagher Hotel. Later balls after statehood were at the American Legion Hall during the 1930s, the Olympia Armory from the 1940s through 1965 and for the next 20 years at such landmarks as the former Tyee Motor Inn, Saint Martin’s pavilion and what now is the Red Lion. For the past quarter century or so, it’s been at the Capitol Campus.
If controversy does develop over the Lacey location, it won’t be the first such challenge for the ball. In late 2004, planners didn’t even know who the governor would be – up until days before the event. That was the year Gov. Chris Gregoire narrowly beat Dino Rossi by 133 votes – and court challenges continued until well after the inauguration.
“Personally I think it’s a party. I think it will be a nice venue for a party,’’ she said of returning to the Lacey venue. As outlined in the event’s press release, “Food will be prepared by Washington State Chefs Association and culinary arts students from around the state. The menus will be designed and created specifically for the 2013 Governor’s Inaugural Ball.”
Tickets cost $100 and details are here. Tickets also can be purchased in-person at two Olympia locations – the local Visitor and Convention Bureau, 103 Sid Snyder Way, or at the Thurston Chamber, 809 Legion Way SE. Details on the web site explain where to go to mail in ticket requests.