Obama stadium speech intensifies hotel crunch

If you're Oprah Winfrey and need a place to sleep during the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month, chances are you won't have much trouble. Just offer $50,000 for the week and find yourself in a luxury home.

But if money is a little tighter, and you're not part of the official convention delegation, reserving a place to stay in Denver can be difficult. The convention is expected to bring in some 50,000 people, including delegates and alternatives, members of the media and guests coming to participate in the many peripheral events surrounding the convention.

The convention was bound to be a large-scale affair, but when organizers decided in June to move 's acceptance speech from the Pepsi Center -- where the convention's first three days will be held -- to Invesco Field at Mile High, they practically doubled the number of people attending, drastically increasing the number of rooms needed.

Many of those planning to come for the Thursday night speech are just now learning they have won tickets, and are expected to show they have accommodations in the Denver area before they can pick them up. So the search for a bed and a shower is on.

"We get as many calls from people who want to rent as those who need rooms," said Angela Berardino, spokeswoman for the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. She said it is common practice for rooms held for large conventions to open up in the weeks beforehand.

"We think there's about 1,000 hotel rooms available, but there's no single clearinghouse," she said, although her office's Web site is trying to maintain an up-to-date list.

There are 42,000 hotel rooms in the Denver metro area, and people are expected to stay as far north as Fort Collins (63 miles to the Pepsi Center) and as far south as Colorado Springs (71 miles away). Berardino said the city is used to hosting large events, noting that the largest ever was World Youth Day in 1993, when 350,000 visitors came to hear Pope John Paul II. While it was larger than the DNC, it actually required fewer hotel rooms than the convention, Berardino said, because many visitors then were taken in by community members.

The official convention housing system this year includes 17,000 rooms at 100 hotels across the area. They will host delegates, official Democratic Party members and the media, said Natalie Wyeth, press secretary for the Democratic National Convention Committee. Other hotels are hosting lobbyists and interest groups, many of whom will be holding parties and meetings throughout the convention week.

Those coming to Denver just for the Invesco Field speech receive no help from the party in finding accommodations but, in an effort to minimize scalping, are required to show they have a place to stay in order to garner a ticket. To help decrease the hotel burden, convention organizers are giving half of the Invesco Field speech tickets to Colorado residents and two-thirds of the total to residents of the Mountain West.

"Each community credential recipient will be responsible for his or her travel and lodging, and will be advised that available accommodations in the Denver metro area are extremely limited," Wyeth said. "We are encouraging folks to explore staying with family and friends."

Or, if you don't know any locals, there is always a stranger's air bed. Airbedandbreakfast.com has more than 600 listings from people willing to take convention-goers into their home, for cash or a donation to the Obama campaign.

"We heard stories about people coming to Denver who were going to sleep in their car or camp in the park," said Joe Gebbia, the site's co-founder. "Now we've provided an alternative."

Accommodations available through the site range from an air mattress on the floor to house rentals complete with party space. Unlike ads on craigslist.org (which also has numerous DNC listings), the airbedandbreakfast.com site serves as an intermediary, guaranteeing payment. Users also post profiles, "so you know who you're staying with and who's coming into your home," co-founder Brian Chesky said.

There are other, more creative solutions as well. Many of the protesters seeking to have their voices heard in Denver planned on erecting a "Tent State University" in City Park, but were told by Mayor John Hickenlooper that the park closed at 11 p.m. and the sprinklers would turn on overnight. The group -- which says it expects as many as 50,000 protesters -- has moved its sleeping arrangements to the nearby City of Cuernavaca Park.