Local Politics

Ticket-holders hope for seats after Obama speech venue change

Posted September 5, 2012 10:01 a.m. EDT
Updated September 6, 2012 12:00 a.m. EDT

— With the threat of rain in the forecast, Democrats decided early Wednesday to move President Barack Obama's speech accepting his party's nomination indoors. Obama had been set to address supporters Thursday night in Charlotte's open-air football stadium. With thunderstorms in the forecast, the Democratic National Convention Committee changed that plan.

The move will prove a disappointment to tens of thousands who held tickets to Bank of America Stadium but who won't fit in the much smaller Time Warner Cable Arena, site of convention events on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Bank of America Stadium seats more than 70,000 for football; Democrats have estimated more than 65,000 tickets were distributed to those who wished to see the president speak. Time Warner Cable Area, home of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, can accommodate about 20,000 people. Including floor space, that still means about 50,000 ticket holders left will be without a spot for Obama's speech.

Some of those are Obama campaign volunteers, like 16-year-old Matthew Washington and political writer Greg Flynn.

"It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience," said Washington's father, who was going to accompany his son to Charlotte.

"That is probably my main disappointment, not being part of this part of history," said Flynn.

Others are Triangle college students who must reassess their plans. 

Laura Frankel, a Ph.D. student at Duke University who hails from California, said the speech would have been a highlight of her time living in a swing state. She was one of a group of about 75 from Duke who planned to go to Charlotte.

"It was a little bit tragic," she said. "We were definitely really looking forward to it." 

She and others got the news via email that their credentials would be eliminated by the change in venue. Frankel said a friend in Charlotte was in charge of notifying some buses that they should turn around.

The disappointment did not dampen her enthusiasm for the electoral process.

"We will still get to watch it on the news, and that's a great way to be involved, so I'm glad that we still have access to it in some way," she said.

"I'm so excited about this election," she said. "We have a very real hand in affecting change and creating the leadership of our government, so lucky us, we should all take that opportunity and vote."

Reggie McCrimmon, student body president at North Carolina Central University, said his school planned to send two busloads – more than 100 people – to Bank of America Stadium. 

"With the weather that is going on and my friends that are in Charlotte, I kind of expected that some changes were going to have to happen," he said.  

NCCU planned a public watching party at the student union, an option for McCrimmon and others left out.  

"A lot of students were looking forward to that. I wouldn't say that they were disappointed, but we are going to have to find a way to make sure that we still create that historical moment for the students," he said.

McCrimmon said he had yet to decide whether to join the watch party or travel to Charlotte on Thursday.

"You probably have about 150,000 people who had planned either to be at the event or to be near it," said North Carolina State Sen. Dan Blue.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a 40 percent chance for thunderstorms in Charlotte Thursday afternoon and evening. Obama is scheduled to speak around 10:30 p.m.

"We have been monitoring weather forecasts closely and several reports predict thunderstorms in the area, therefore we have decided to move Thursday's proceedings to Time Warner Cable Arena to ensure the safety and security of our delegates and convention guests," said Steve Kerrigan, CEO of the convention committee. 

Charlotte has had some rain every day since Saturday, and nearly an inch fell in a sudden storm Monday. Both conventions have been plagued with rain. More than three inches fell in Tampa while delegates were there last week for the Republican gathering.

A downpour likely wouldn't be enough to bother Obama's speech, but the main worry is lightning. The storms possible Thursday night are ones typical for the South in late summer. They can pop up quickly and move slowly.

"The main concern would be any lightning near the stadium," said Jeffrey Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Democrats have also worried for months about filling the stadium so crowd shots look good on television during the speech. They gave away free tickets to party volunteers and were bringing in busloads of church members and college students from North Carolina and South Carolina to fill the seats.

"They are hoping to get 15,000 people listening to the president's speech, instead of potentially wet and cranky viewers," said William Peace University Professor David McLennan. "It's great to have a loud crowd, not a wet crowd."