By: Joseph Basco & Maggi Seppi, News Editor and Assistant News Editor
Jan. 26 will be a monumental day for UNF, as cable news channel CNN will host a GOP presidential debate at the Lazzara Performance Hall in the Fine Arts Center.
Media outlets from Jacksonville to Japan will be on campus to cover the debate. This event will give the university unprecedented international publicity, said UNF Assistant Vice President of Public Relations Sharon Ashton.
“CNN will have 4.1 million viewers that night, and when they come back from [a TV commercial] break, they will reiterate, ‘Live from the campus of the University of North Florida,’” Ashton said. “We can’t buy that kind of national exposure, and that’s just CNN.”
But this worldwide publicity comes at the cost of convenience. Read on to see how this debate will affect students and faculty the day of the event.
How to Watch the Event:
CNN, with the assistance of organizations such as the Florida Republican Party, will have a list of guests who will be invited inside the Lazzara Performance Hall. Ashton said CNN will verify the names on the guest list prior to the event for security reasons. The guests will check in at a table in front of the Lazzara Performance Hall and show ID to receive a wristband that tells them where to sit. Security will search their bags. CNN will be the only media group inside the Lazzara Performance Hall.
Families of the candidates and the overflow from the Lazzarra Performance Hall will be seated in the Recital Hall next to the Lazzara Performance Hall, said Richard Stanford, assistant director of the Fine Arts Center.
While students and faculty are not likely to be invited into the Lazzara Performance Hall, Ashton said a “CNN presidential debate viewing party” will take place at the 800-seat Robinson Theater. A live feed from the nearby Lazzara Performance Hall will be displayed on screen inside the theater.
A ticket will be required to enter the Robinson Theater. Ashton said a ticket distribution plan is in the works, but confirmed a set number of tickets will be given to the chairs of the communications, political science and honors departments. UNF Student Government will also receive tickets. The tickets will be released the week of Jan. 16.
The debate will be aired live on CNN. The time will be determined as the event nears.
The Fine Arts Center Parking Garage will be reserved for audience members who will attend the event in the Lazzara Performance Hall.
The second, third and fourth floors of the parking garage will be closed to students starting at 6 a.m. The first floor will be closed to faculty and staff starting at 5 p.m.
Vince Smyth, UNF director of Auxiliary Services, said faculty and staff can remain parked on the first floor after 5 p.m., but they will not be allowed back into the parking garage.
Smyth said an express shuttle route, from Lot 53 straight to the Thomas G. Carpenter Library, will be in operation all day Jan. 26. Anyone who parks in Lot 53 may take the express shuttle. This will not affect the South shuttle route, which has four shuttles running throughout the day.
Smyth said all press vehicles, with the exception of live trucks, will be parking at the Osprey Fountains Parking Lot. He said there are always 400 free spaces in the lot at any time, and students do not typically park there.
Smyth’s advice to students, faculty and staff is to arrive on campus earlier than usual. He said to go straight to Lot 18 or Lot 53 if there are no more parking spaces in the garages. Even though there will be more activity on campus, parking rules will still be enforced until 8 p.m.
There will be a lot of traffic on the day of the debate. “Because there is heightened activity, there might be more congestion in the area,” Smyth said.
CNN will have a bus, a tent and a platform just outside the sidewalk area that surrounds the green where Building 11 used to be. Ashton said CNN will be setting up in the area during the days leading up to the event.
All other live trucks will be set up at the Student Union, from the food court steps to the edge of the lake. Ashton said 10 – 15 media trucks are expected to show up.
Classes will be in session at the Fine Arts Center at instructor discretion. Ashton said there will be one class, inside the recital hall, that will have to relocate that day.
“Academic entrances,” which are designated entrances for students, faculty and staff at the Fine Arts Center, have not been finalized as of Jan. 13. Faculty and students will be directed to the academic entrance on the day of the debate. They will be asked to show their Osprey 1Cards and security personal will look through backpacks and purses at that entrance.
Stanford said he predicts students may be able to enter the building from every door except for the front doors near the box office and Lazzara Performance Hall entrance and the loading dock in the back.
The Boathouse at the Student Union will be closed all day Jan. 26. Chartwells will set up a grill in Osprey Plaza to serve food all day. Media groups will be taking live shots of the campus from the Boathouse balcony. The backroom of the Boathouse will become the “spin room,” where reporters can interview the candidates after the debate. The Student Union ballrooms on the third floor will become a “press file room,” where 136 print, online and radio journalists will watch a live feed of the debate. CNN will handle who gets credentials in all of these areas.
John Dean, UPD director of Safety and Security, said UPD will be handling all of the security for the event. He said JSO may provide resources to UPD if they are needed. Dean did not comment on specific security measures for “security reasons.”
As far as security for the Free Speech Zone, bike racks will surround the CNN bus to provide some sort of protection because it will have a lot of expensive equipment, Ashton said.
The rest of the campus will also have additional security measures in place.
“On our campus in general, we will have heightened security,” Ashton said. “Between UPD and CNN security folks and any additional hiring of security folks that CNN takes care of, we will have heightened security throughout our campus.”
Free Speech Zone:
UNF’s Free Speech Zone, normally located on the Green, will remain there for the duration of the GOP debate. The Free Speech Zone is an area in which anyone may voice his or her opinions in a nonviolent manner. Controversial religious figures have voiced their opinions on the Green throughout the years.
Groups and individuals planning to station themselves on the Green will be required to fill out a permit to gain access to the area.
There has been no word on which groups will be attending, aside from a little buzz about Occupy Jacksonville attending, Ashton said.
“As a public campus, with a high-profile event like this, we know we are going to get all kinds of people,” Ashton said. “We’re going to get people who love their candidates, who want to absorb the excitement and that sort of thing, too.”
UNF won’t be paying any additional costs associated with hosting the GOP debate on campus Jan. 26.
CNN and the university have agreed that CNN will pay any costs accumulated by the event’s presence on campus.
UNF is working with each of the committee counterparts to figure out what their costs are and if they are things the university has readily available, Ashton said.
“If there are things we have readily available, we are making them available to CNN,” Ashton said. “And any additional hard costs at all, whether it be a tent or a banner that says CNN, whatever, CNN is paying.”
So far, the university has received two quotes for the costs, totaling $10,000. A portion of this will be distributed to UNF faculty and staff working overtime, as well as the installation of additional power outlets in rooms that CNN staff and associated equipment will occupy.
Even if the costs exceed $10,000, CNN will pay them, Ashton said.
No costs have arisen or been discussed, thus far, that CNN has refused to accommodate.
How This Event Came to be:
Ashton said CNN originally planned to have the GOP presidential debate at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. A pre-booked show for Jan. 26 made the plans between the City of Jacksonville and CNN fall through.
Right before UNF’s holiday break, CNN came to UNF to survey the area. Ashton said CNN representatives “loved the campus.” UNF agreed to host the event under two conditions: UNF will not pay any “hard” external costs, and the event will not disrupt academic activities.
Email Joseph & Maggi at [email protected]