CHARLOTTE — Some 500 journalists gathered Wednesday at the Time-Warner Cable Arena, some from news outlets as far away as Japan and Qatar, to get a look at the site of the Democratic National Convention that will be held in 232 days.
These were not the media stars Brian Williams or the George Wills. These were mainly the technical geeks who will handle the production and the logistical end.
The arena still looks like a place where bad basketball and minor league hockey is played, rather than the venue for the convention that will re-nominate President Barack Obama.
Only the electronic scoreboard with the headline "2012 Democratic National Convention" was a hint of things to come.
Everything is on schedule said Steve Kerrigan, a Boston pol who is the convention's chief executive. Yes, the convention has a CEO and a staff of 50 that will eventually grow to about 200.
But then the convention is big: 35,000 people including 15,000 members of the news media; involving 140 hotels, 1,200 events, 10,000 volunteers, and any number of protesters, lobbyists, members of Congress, movie stars, and ordinary people from across the country.
"The president made it clear from Day 1 that he wanted this convention to be different from day one than any other in history," Kerrigan said Wednesday.
How different? This will be the first five-sport political convention.
The convention will have its unofficial kickoff at a NASCAR track, followed by two days at a basketball and hockey arena.
It finishes up at a football stadium.
Here is a glance at how things are progressing.
The shrinking convention: For the first time in recent memory, the convention will be three days, not four days. On Sept. 3, Labor Day, the Democrats will bus everybody out to the Charlotte Motor Speedway for a fun family day instead of sitting around on what was supposed to be the opening day of the convention. Kerrigan said he wants to expose the country to North Carolina and Southern culture. The visiting media were thrown a party Tuesday night at the NASCAR Hall of Fame that included legend Junior Johnson. NASCAR Democrats?
Hoping for tolerable weather: The Democrats were really pleased with the way things went at Denver's Invesco Field where thousands could witness Obama's history-making acceptance speech. So they are doing it again at the 74,000-seat Bank of America Stadium. Except, of course, Charlotte is hotter than Denver. And Bank of America, after receiving a federal bailout and then backing down from a proposed $5 monthly debit-card transaction fee, may or may not be the perfect symbolism the Democrats are looking for here. And we won't even mention that it's hurricane season.
Protesters: There will be lots of them. Charlotte folks won't say how many. Tampa, Fla., which is hosting the Republican National Convention a week before, expects 15,000. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department plans to add 2,400 to 3,400 officers from other police departments to its force of 1,750 for the convention. Court officials plan to double the magistrates for that week. Next week, the Charlotte City Council is scheduled to vote on a new ordinance that will prohibit camping on city property and forbid protesters to carry such items as box cutters, pepper spray, body armor and gas masks. Overall, $50 million will be spent on convention security, paid for with federal funds from the taxpayer check off. The Secret Service is coordinating security.
Financing the convention: The Democrats say they are on schedule to raise the $36.6 million they need to pay for the convention. But they have declined to say how much they have raised so far. They have made it harder on themselves by not accepting any money from corporations, lobbyists or any contributions more than $100,000. Reporters keep asking to see the numbers. The Democrats keep rope-a-doping. The Democrats have been buttoned up about a lot of information about the convention, often frustrating the news media. Even the media walk-through of the convention sites on Wednesday was off the record. In other words, reporters could not report about what they were doing all day - it's hush-hush.
The entrepreneurial spirit: Hotels are jacking up prices for convention week. Holiday Inn Express Suites East Matthews is charging $849.15 to $1,014 per night during convention week, compared with $126.65 to $184 the week before, according to The Charlotte Observer. Rates at the Quality Inn at Carowinds Fort Mill start at $699 per night during convention week, compared with $63.86 the week before. So many Yankees, so little time.
Entrepreneurial spirit Part II: People are trying to rent out their homes for the week because there are only about half as many hotel rooms in uptown Charlotte (4,200) as there were in Denver. On Craigslist, an owner of a 1,100-square-foot uptown condo was asking $20,000 for the week, according to the Observer. But that was cheap. Earlier this year, a homeowner in the Myers Park/Eastover area listed his weekly rental for $145,000. More typically, weekly condo rentals are going for $3,500 for a one bedroom and $7,500 for a three bedroom.
Not yet ready for its make over: There will be a lot more bad basketball played at Time Warner Cable Arena before it is transformed into what is no longer called a smoke-filled room - even when it's on Tobacco Road. Shortly after Coldplay finishes its concert, the Democrats take over the arena for 2-1/2 months, starting July 14. The renovations are expected to cost $7 million. The podium, for the first time, will be in the end zone, rather than center court, which the Democrats said will save money in construction.
The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.
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