As Springfield prepares for President Barack Obama's appearance on Thursday at the sold-out Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday banquet at the Crowne Plaza, requests to get into the event continue to pour in. Meanwhile, local restaurant owner Jimmy Oh, pictured, says he'll be on standby in case the president wants some takeout from one of Obama's favorite places to eat.
One would-be ticket buyer offered her tap-dancing daughter as entertainment.
About 900 tickets sold out in January for next week’s banquet in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday at the Crowne Plaza in Springfield, followed quickly by another 300 tickets for the overflow hall.
But that hasn’t stopped people from trying, especially since Monday’s announcement that President Barack Obama will be the featured speaker on Thursday.
“Oh my lord, it’s just been unbelievable. Hundreds and hundreds have called,” said Dick Hart, president of The Abraham Lincoln Association, which sponsors the annual banquet. This is the 100th year for the event.
The association had to resort to a voice mail at the local office explaining tickets and space were gone.
Hart said that hasn’t stopped ticket-seekers, including the woman who offered to make her daughter a part of the program.
“She said, ‘You need entertainment,’ and I told her we had a pretty good plan. That’s when she said, ‘Well, my daughter tap-dances,’” said Hart.
She didn’t get the tickets, which sold for $95 per person for the main banquet and $45 for the overflow room.
The $95 ticket comes with the banquet, a meal, the president’s speech in person and the association’s Bicentennial commemorative book, “Lincoln in Illinois.” The $45 ticket gets you a dessert and a big-screen television view of Obama’s speech. Tickets will be distributed the night of the banquet.
Presidential visits ripple through communities days ahead of the event, and next week’s is no exception, including for one of the president’s favorite Springfield restaurants.
“I just know I’m on standby. They said we might only get an hour’s notice,” said Jimmy Oh, who has earned something of his 15 minutes of fame as owner of Bentoh’s and Jimmy Oh’s in Springfield. Obama frequented the downtown Bentoh’s while serving in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004, and Oh served catered meals to the family for the Obama presidential and vice presidential announcements in Springfield.
Oh said he was contacted by the presidential advance staff, but there have been no hints of a quick presidential visit or a takeout order for Air Force One.
“They will not even let us know until the last minute. ... He’s not going to spend a lot of time here,” Oh said.
While details have yet to be released, indications are the president will pop into town for a 7 p.m. speech to the annual banquet and depart soon thereafter.
“He’s not staying overnight, but they don’t usually publish the itinerary until it’s closer to the event,” said Samie Bazuzi, general manager of the Crowne Plaza.
Bazuzi said he has some experience with presidential visits. He worked at hotels in Washington that were the sites of events for Presidents Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush.
He said the visits are not as disruptive as might be imagined.
“They could come in and make their speeches and that was it. The Secret Service is always all over the place,” Bazuzi said.
Both the 277-room Crowne Plaza and the adjoining 140-room Holiday Inn Express were fully booked well ahead of the Obama visit, but Bazuzi said he does not anticipate major problems for convention and business groups at the two hotels.
The demand for rooms spilled over to the 117-room Hilton Garden Inn, just south of the Crowne Plaza, said general manager Tim Turner.
“We were asked for rooms by several state agencies, but unfortunately, or fortunately, we were already booked,” Turner said.
Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536 or firstname.lastname@example.org.