Politics & Government

Vice presidential debate's estimated price tag at Centre College: $3.3 million

Maple Tree Gallery, a gift shop in downtown Danville, has added debate souvenirs to its inventory.
Maple Tree Gallery, a gift shop in downtown Danville, has added debate souvenirs to its inventory. Herald-Leader

Hosting the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate at Centre College could cost about $3.3 million, though the college's students and the public aren't expected to pay most of it.

Just to secure the event, Centre College had to commit a $1.65 million fee to The Commission on Presidential Debates, the non-partisan organization behind the quadrennial events. The commission will use that for its operations and to build a set inside the college's Norton Center for the Arts.

Separately, the college is paying for construction of facilities needed by the Democratic and Republican campaigns and the news media. It hopes to recoup much of that cost by billing them.

News organizations must pay from $40 for one desk space with electricity to $1,900 for a television network trailer parking space. The campaigns must pay $225 for a desk, $250 for a couch, $120 for a mini-fridge, $60 for a full-length mirror. Chairs are $12 with padding, $10 without.

The college also is planning a music festival and other campus events around the debate, with the assistance of at least one sponsor, AARP, the seniors advocacy group.

When Centre College hosted the vice presidential debate in 2000, it paid $550,000 to the commission and spent roughly that much again on its own, for a total of about $1.1 million, said Clarence Wyatt, history professor and special assistant to the college's president.

Though it's impossible to know what this year's debate will cost until it's over, based on experience, doubling the sum of the commission's fee seems as educated a guess as any, Wyatt said. Whatever can't be charged back to the campaigns or the media should be covered by the college's private fund-raising, which is off to a strong start, he said.

"Although we consider this debate to be part of the overall educational mission we're providing for our students, student tuition dollars do not go to pay for this," said Wyatt, who is co-chairman of the college's debate steering committee. "This will be paid for entirely outside of the regular operational budget of the college."

Meanwhile, the city of Danville expects to spend $50,000 to $100,000 on police security and improvements to roads, landscaping, street sign age and civic beautification around the campus, said city manager Ron Scott.

Some work, such as the road paving, would have happened regardless, but Danville sped it up to get it done by the debate, Scott said. Other public sprucing will be enjoyed long after Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan climb back on their buses and depart.

Danville, which already ranks high on many lists of terrific small towns, knows it will be in the national spotlight on Oct. 11, Scott said. Reporters and political types were praising Danville's charms after they attended the 2000 debate.

"It's going to help people have an extremely positive view of Danville, which will help us," Scott said. "People may decide to visit here or move here, or relocate or open a business here. So this seems like a worthwhile investment."

The U.S. Secret Service, teaming with Kentucky State Police, will be in charge of security. State police said they could not provide an estimate of their budget for the event. The Boyle County sheriff's office will provide several deputies, and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government is expected to send horse-mounted officers to help with crowd control.

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