CVC Watch

Posted November 7, 2008 at 6:29pm

The Capitol Visitor Center is rumored to be imposing and magnificent, a feat of architecture that inspires visitors the moment they step into its cavernous entrance hall.

[IMGCAP(1)]But it has remained just a myth to many reporters and photographers, who haven’t been able to set foot inside the largest-ever expansion to the Capitol for more than a year.

That changes today, when CVC officials unveil the center in a long-anticipated “media day.” More than two dozen media outlets will attend the press conference and tour, updating photos that are woefully out of date.

Different reasons for the media moratorium have been offered over the past year, from security concerns to the testing of the fire- and life-safety systems.

On Friday, Terrie Rouse, the CVC’s chief executive officer for visitor services, said officials have purposefully kept the media out of the center, in anticipation that it would be revealed in one fell swoop.

“They’ll be able to see it alive,” she said. “All the elements are now in place. It’s like the opening of a model home. You’ll be able to see that’s the kitchen, that’s the living room.”

The last photos taken for Roll Call show a CVC that is knee-deep in construction, with workers wearing hard hats and floors sporting dust and tools. That was April 2007 — more than a year and a half ago.

Other media outlets have had similar experiences. Mike Ruane, a reporter at the Washington Post, said he’s been asking for access “for months and months. And have been consistently told no.”

The CVC has come a long way since the construction site last displayed in newspaper photographs. It has interactive exhibits, a cafeteria, gift shops and committee rooms. Now virtually complete, it’s outfitted with statutes, furniture and almost all the finishing details.

Most news stories on its construction have come out of committee hearings, where Members often complained of cost overruns and construction details. Over the years, cable networks asked to showcase the center in likely positive programs — but were thwarted by a strict interpretation of rules banning commercial filming on Capitol grounds.

The media ban appears to have created a paranoia among news outlets about who would get new photos first, with Rouse for months fielding numerous and repeated photo requests.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (D) office also got calls after announcing she would give a tour to the public last week. A spokeswoman said CVC officials asked her that they not include members of the media.

Today offers a long-awaited chance for media outlets to show the public what $621 million of public funding has produced. So far, Rouse said, staffers have reacted positively in the recent private tours organized by CVC officials.

“People are really loving the space,” she said. “That ‘awe effect’ that we all have talked about is really very much present.”