CHARLOTTE, N.C. In the calm before Charlotte’s political whirlwind hits, thousands of area residents filed by huge-screen images of Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty at the Time Warner Cable Arena and marveled at what lies ahead.
“We were literally on the floor of history,” said RonJent Davis, who works for the dropout prevention group Communities in Schools, as she left Friday’s public tour of the stage for next week’s Democratic National Convention.
Like others in the crowd of about 4,000, Davis fantasized about seeing the arena fill with speakers and delegates: “You can really feel how our nation will come together in this one place.”
A jumbo screen and booming speakers surrounding the delegates give Democrats “the look and feel we need” to deliver their message promoting President Barack Obama’s re-election effort, convention CEO Steve Kerrigan said. Hall details include blue carpeting, red, white and blue stage lighting and photos of American landmarks.
The imagery “will allow us to deliver that message in a visually engaging way, both to the thousands of people in the arena and to the millions who will be watching at home or online,” Kerrigan said.
Members of the public who signed up for the podium tour were brought in single file to view the stage and take photos. Those pictures quickly began popping up on Twitter and other social media, with labels such as “breathtaking” and “overwhelming.”
“It was just so enormous and colorful,” said Kelly Czarnecki, who lined up around 9:30 a.m. for her tour that started about a half-hour later.
Christian Varnado, 26, said he liked being on the convention floor and seeing where all the delegations are going to sit. North Carolina delegates get prime seating on the floor, along with delegations from Illinois and Delaware – Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s home states.
“It’s a great opportunity to showcase Charlotte and the South,” Varnado said. “No matter your party affiliation … this puts Charlotte on a pedestal.”
Millany Sotodiaz, a 10-year-old who came with a group from Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s First Ward Creative Arts Academy, said she had hoped the president would appear. But she wasn’t disappointed.
“It’s a miracle to be here,” Millany said.
Her fifth-grade classmate, 11-year-old Jasmine Seegars, envisioned herself on the podium: “One day I could be up there talking to everybody.”
Organizers billed Friday’s public tour of the convention hall as the first of three free public events to thank Charlotteans for their support.
Monday brings CarolinaFest 2012, a street festival in uptown Charlotte featuring musical performers, children’s activities and vendors.
On Thursday, thousands of campaign volunteers and members of the public will attend Obama’s acceptance speech at Bank of America Stadium.
Elsie Davis of Charlotte, 55, waited in line for seven hours last weekend to get tickets for the president’s speech and came to the arena preview tour.
“It’s amazing that we can just come in here,” she said. “It’s like we’re a part of it.”
Charlotte resident Sheila Cummings agreed. “To know I can look at the TV and say I was there ... it’s amazing,” she said.
Organizers budgeted $7 million to prepare the arena, which will seat 15,000.
Upfitting work included laying phone and Internet connections and preparing suites for major news outlets covering the convention for a worldwide audience. Convention business begins Tuesday.
Money for the arena preparations comes from the $36.6 million the Charlotte host committee is raising for the convention.
Host committee members will not disclose how much of that money has been raised.
Staff writers Kelly Mae Ross, Tim Funk and Victoria Guida contributed.