Democratic National Convention

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Arena making $7 million transformation

Open house Aug. 31 at revamped building will launch activities

By Ann Doss Helms and Jim Morrill
ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Democratic officials announced Wednesday that the public can pick up credentials for President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech this week – and get a sneak peek at the convention hall next week.

On Thursday, Obama campaign officials will distribute 6,000 “community credentials” for the Sept. 6 speech at Bank of America Stadium to N.C. campaign volunteers.

On Saturday, they’ll distribute them to people who signed up online on a first-come, first-served basis at a dozen Obama campaign offices throughout North Carolina.

And on Aug. 31 the public will get a look at Time Warner Cable Arena as it will appear to millions of TV viewers on Sept. 4 and 5.

Next week’s open house will launch convention activities and thank Charlotteans for their support, said convention CEO Steve Kerrigan.

“What looks like a construction zone today is going to be transformed into an amazing world-class convention venue,” Kerrigan told media gathered for a tour Wednesday. “This hall behind us is going to be electric.”

The uptown arena still looked like a construction site, with steel decks stacked on floors and colorful test patterns scrolling on video screens.

Organizers are spending $7 million to prepare the arena, which will have 15,000 seats. The construction budget for turning Bank of America Stadium into a site for Obama’s acceptance speech is $5 million, said Chief Operating Officer Theo LeCompte.

The money would come from the nearly $37 million the Charlotte host committee is obligated to raise for the convention. Organizers have refused to say how much of that money is already in hand.

Crews have been at the arena for more than a month, with much of the work focused on laying the phone and Internet connections needed for a wired event drawing worldwide attention.

“We’re just about done with getting the nuts and bolts in place,” LeCompte said.

Media visitors, at times wearing hard hats, saw a framed-in camera stand and crews preparing to build the podium, as well as suites being prepared for news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and BET. A Bobcats practice court has been transformed into a room that will provide Internet access and writing space for other journalists.

Kerrigan repeatedly sounded the theme of “the most open and accessible convention in history.”

“This open house is going to provide the public here in Charlotte, who have been terrific hosts for us, an opportunity to be the first ones to witness what all of us have been working on for well over a year and a half,” Kerrigan said, referring to convention planning.

People can sign up for the Aug. 31 open house at www.demconvention.com, the same site where they’ve been signing up for credentials to see the president’s acceptance speech.

For the Sept. 6 speech, the first credentials will go to volunteers who took part in the campaign’s “9-3-1” program, that is, people who volunteered nine hours over three shifts for one credential.

Campaign spokesman Cameron French said the 6,000 volunteers contributed 54,000 hours of voter contact.

“The Obama campaign in North Carolina, through programs like 9-3-1, through using the convention as an organizing tool, are able to expand their outreach in communities across the state,” French said.

He declined to say how many tickets will be available Saturday, or how many people they expect in the stadium, which in a football configuration seats more than 70,000.

Democrats contrast their public events with the Republican convention in Tampa, where prospective nominee Mitt Romney will address a hall full of mostly delegates and VIPs.

DNC organizers are expected to announce a park-and-ride system for the stadium event as early as Thursday.

They hope all the public events – the open house, a Sept. 3 street festival in uptown Charlotte and the president’s speech – help tip North Carolina for Obama in the election.

“You can’t just drop into a swing state and have a convention and hope you’re going to win,” Kerrigan said. “That’s how you move the needle in politics, is by engaging people.”

Helms: 704-358-5033
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