Local news

Snow biggest challenge to West Central venue

The West Central Community Center in Spokane has hosted big-name political candidates and large crowds before. But never with this much snow on the ground.

“That’s really our biggest challenge right now,” said Don Higgins, the center’s executive director.

City crews were expected to help plow the parks department’s lot next door to make room for hundreds of people expected to show up today for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “town hall” campaign event, which starts at 2:30 p.m.

Other than that, the logistics of Clinton’s stop are left to her campaign staff and the Secret Service. Same goes for Michelle Obama, wife of Sen. Barack Obama, when she appears at the Fox theater at 4 p.m. today.

“The security intensity is what makes this a little different from a normal event,” said Annie Matlow, marketing director for the Fox.

The Secret Service is in charge of security for both events and asks city agencies for help when needed. But don’t bother asking about traffic routes or police staffing for the events. It’s a secret.

Spokane Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer DeRuwe wouldn’t comment on specifics but said traffic isn’t expected to be affected dramatically by either event.

Spokane paid more than $17,000 in overtime for officers during Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit to Spokane in April 2006. But Gavin Cooley, the city’s chief financial officer, doesn’t expect the city to spend extra money on security for today’s campaign visits.

“They think they can handle it with the existing personnel,” he said.

The Washington State Patrol hasn’t been asked to participate, spokesman Mark Baker said.

Both venues are being rented by the campaigns at standard rates for nonprofit groups – about $300 for the community center and $1,800 for the Fox.

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said the city likely will incur some costs from hosting the events, but that’s “part of the cost of doing business.”

“Bottom line is we’re doing this as essentially a service to the citizens,” Feist said. “There clearly is a desire by some of our citizens, at least, to be able to have access to some of these dignitaries and candidates.

“There’s a cost involved in that, but at the same time there’s access to, in this case, possibly the highest decision-maker in our country,” she said. “You kind of step up for that.”

The short notice for the visits and the intensity of the campaign made for a busy day for venue managers.

“We’re very excited,” the Fox’s Matlow said. “This has all come together in about 24 hours for us, as I think it has for everybody.”

Higgins got a call about 10:30 a.m. Thursday saying the Clinton campaign wanted to use the center today. He spent the rest of the day rearranging event schedules and working with campaign staff and Secret Service agents.

“There was such a short turnaround; it was a little bit surprising,” Higgins said.

“Obviously, it makes us pretty excited. We don’t have a lot of opportunities to do anything this big.”


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