Danville gussying up for vice-presidential debate at Centre College

gkocher1@herald-leader.comSeptember 22, 2012 

Phil Stivender, left, and Martin Harris put up a banner in a window of the Norton Center for the Arts, site of the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.

GREG KOCHER | STAFF — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

DANVILLE — Company's coming, so the Boyle County seat is cleaning house.

In this case, the guests will be a sitting vice president, his general-election opponent and several hundred media and other out-of-towners for the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate.

Danville went through it all before in 2000, when Centre College hosted its first vice-presidential debate. This time, the town knows the drill.

"I think last time we didn't know exactly what to expect," said Danville resident Wilma Brown, former executive director of the Community Arts Center. "And this time I believe we're pulling out all the stops, because we know how many people are coming to the town and how important it is for the town. So we've grown up in some ways."

Danville city government plans to spend about $190,000 to repave seven streets around Centre's campus, said City Manager Ron Scott. The city also plans to repaint downtown curbs, parking spaces and lampposts. The gingko trees lining Main Street will soon be trimmed.

"We spent about $12,000 or more in replanting mums in all our public areas around town, so that should be an attractive display of fall colors," Scott said. "We have a countdown, if you will, in what we can do in a timely way for the debate that will still be fresh at the time of the debate.

"Those curb paintings, for example, probably won't take place until the week before the debate because they get marked up pretty quickly by tires," he said.

Earlier this year, volunteers repainted fire hydrants "with a red, white and blue theme," Scott said.

City officials and members of The Heart of Danville, a downtown revitalization group, meet each week to walk along Main Street and review the progress of the sprucing-up.

The facades of several downtown buildings were painted for the last debate, and some painting is happening now. Farmers National Bank began painting its exterior trim last week.

Artwork and murals have been put up in some unoccupied spaces downtown. For example, the Community Arts Center had people paint a donkey-and-elephant mural in the Gilcher Hotel building near the Centre Bookstore on Main Street.

Meanwhile, Centre College has already taken out seats from the mezzanine of the Norton Center for the Arts, the debate hall, and put in platforms from which ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox and C-SPAN will do their coverage, Centre spokesman Michael Strysick said. The hall normally seats 1,470 people.

"We're just all of a sudden starting to hear from the network folks," Strysick said. "I think once the conventions were over, they took a breather and directed their attention to Denver (site of the first presidential debate on Oct. 3), and now we're starting to get more calls."

Some 53 satellite TV trucks were parked on a field behind the Norton Center for the 2000 debate, "and we anticipate as many this time," Strysick said.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Presidential Debates has begun to build the stage from which Joe Biden and Paul Ryan will answer questions from moderator Martha Raddatz.

There appears to be greater interest among foreign journalists in covering this debate than there was in 2000, Strysick said. Centre officials have had discussions with the U.S. State Department about the foreign media that will be in town.

"The list of countries that are interested in being here is wide-ranging and impressive," Strysick said. "The countries that we've been discussing with the State Department are China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands and Norway."

The BBC and other media from Great Britain will have a sizable footprint. In addition, al-Jazeera, the satellite news network known for its broadcasts throughout the Middle East, has confirmed that it will cover the debate.

Reporters sending stories from Centre will find a remodeled media filing center with 550 work stations at Hazelrigg Gym in Sutcliffe Hall, across the street from the Norton Center. The number of work stations can be bumped up to 750 if needed. Some 531 telephones have been put in, but 50 flat-screen televisions must still be installed so that reporters will be able to watch the debate from their work stations.

"We installed 76,000 linear feet of data cable alone," Strysick said. "That's 14 miles of data cable."

When all those visitors come to town, they will expect their smartphones and tablet computers to function. So Centre College is working with major telephone providers to increase the cellphone capacity in Danville. As in 2000, providers again plan to bring in COWS, short for cells on wheels, to boost capacity.

A test of that capacity happens Thursday, when Centre has asked its entire campus community to come to Hazelrigg Gym and try to "break the network." Students and faculty are asked to bring their cellphones, laptops and tablet computers.

"The idea will be to see if we can sustain all the demand that's being put on the network in anticipation of all the reporters that will be here," Strysick said.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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