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Organizers prepare for 75,000 on election night.

Even if Bill Clinton Doesn't Win, There's Going To Be Quite a Party Downtown

WHEN DOWNTOWN business people saw tents being erected and equipment being brought into Julius Breckling Riverfront Park a week before the Nov. 3 general election, most figured preparations had begun for America's Watch Party '92.

While plans indeed were under way for the election night party, the activities along the Arkansas River actually were plans for a cattle show in the park.

A cattle show and auction has been planned at Riverfront Park for Sunday, Nov. 1, for two years.

It just happens that the election night events sponsored by the Democratic Party of Arkansas will be near the same area two days later.

The park will be used to accommodate at least 60 satellite trucks. Watch parties will stretch from the plaza at the Camelot Hotel past the Old State House to the plaza at the Arkansas Excelsior Hotel and the rooms at the Statehouse Convention Center.

The party's planners also are contending with a John Deere tractor show that was scheduled for Nov. 1-2 in the Statehouse Convention Center.

The tractors and cattle add to the organizational logistics with which the party's planners must contend.

"I could just envision these people from New York and Los Angeles showing up and going, 'Hey, we've got some cattle in the way,'" says Roby Brock, the assistant project coordinator for the watch party.

The cattle and tractors do add humor.

"If we could just get some people to take off their shoes and wash some clothes in the river, we'd have a pretty picture to paint," says Brock.

Although Brock jokes about the Arkansas stereotype, image is something the Democratic Party is paying attention to come election night, and it is asking Arkansans to do the same.

A committee was formed for just that purpose.

Arkansas Is Ready, America! is a promotional program sponsored by the Little Rock Election '92 Host Committee.

That commission is chaired by Wayne Cranford of the Little Rock advertising agency Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods; Linus Raines, general manager at the Excelsior Hotel; and Ark Monroe, a lawyer at Mitchell Williams Selig Gates & Woodyard.

Through advertising, the committee is encouraging a community effort of hospitality for the expected 4,000 members of the media coming into the state.

There's not a good estimate on how many non-media visitors will be coming. Some estimate that at least 25,000 people will flood a four-block area of downtown Little Rock. Organizers are preparing for 75,000.

"We feel like we've worked for years to get ... media people here to write about our city and state |and~ to get visitors here to see our wonderful city and state," says Hallie Simmins, the director of public relations at the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"And now these people are coming on their own."

Simmins and a group of volunteers are creating media packets that will list story ideas and interview possibilities within the state. She's been told reporters are looking for general information about Gov. Bill Clinton's home state.

"Politics aside, everyone feels like we're going to have the national spotlight on our city and state," Simmins says. "We're going to be part of a historic moment."

Welcome the World

"Win or lose, the world is going to be in central Arkansas that night," says Brock.

Therefore, the Democratic Party has asked itself, "What are we going to do?"

Brock says, "This was going to happen whether we coordinated it or not. We're just trying to give it some organization and some sanity -- at the risk of our own."

A private function involving Clinton-Gore campaign staffers will be held in the Camelot's ballroom. A stage with live entertainment and big-screen televisions will be on the Robinson Center Plaza for the public.

Street vendors will be selling food associated with the state such as catfish, ribs and roasted corn. Beverages also will be sold on the street, but alcohol will only be sold inside the hotels.

The front of the Old State House is the anticipated site for Clinton's address, expected at about 10 p.m. Clinton will watch election returns from the Governor's Mansion. He most likely will show up at each of the public sites at some point during the evening.

Much of the evening's activity will take place at the Excelsior Hotel. The Democratic Party has rented the Excelsior's Grand Ballroom for an open party that will feature Democratic candidates and speakers.

Downstairs in the Excelsior's lobby, the hotel will host a watch party. A giant ice sculpture of the White House will be a central focus along with television monitors throughout the lobby. The hotel's restaurants will be open, too.

On the east concourse of the hotel will be a "Nostalgic Walk," which features pictures and stories of Arkansas politicians and prominent Democrats along with Clinton and Democratic vice presidential nominee Al Gore.

Down at the Statehouse Convention Center in the 40,000-SF Governor's Exhibition Hall will be another stage for entertainment and more big screen televisions. This is the backup site for Clinton's announcement if the weather necessitates a change from the Old State House.

The other 20,000 SF at the Statehouse Convention Center is being used as media central for out-of-town members of the press.

There are also a number of private parties that will take place close to the public ones. For instance, Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., will hold a party for his staff and supporters at the Excelsior's Pinnacle Lounge. It will start out as a private function, but it may open to the public later in the evening.

Major supporters of the Clinton campaign will be at a private party at Josephine's in the Excelsior.

Rep. Ray Thornton, D-Ark., will hold a private party at Cafe Saint Moritz. The Rose Law Firm, where Hillary Clinton is a partner, also will have a private party at its offices.

But downtown Little Rock doesn't have the exclusive on parties.

For instance, The After Thought lounge in Hillcrest is holding a watch party, as are many restaurants throughout the city. Numerous restaurants and other businesses, especially in the downtown area, are extending their business hours for the day.

West Little Rock seems to have become the designated area for Republicans. For instance, Republican Senate candidate Mike Huckabee's headquarters for the evening are at the Holiday Inn West Holidome.

But downtown is where the action will be.

Main Street Bridge will be closed to automobile traffic but open to pedestrians. Shuttles will be available from Riverfront Park in North Little Rock and from War Memorial Stadium and the Capitol in Little Rock.

Exact times and locations are still to be announced. In fact, much of what takes place election night won't be entirely preplanned because of the logistics.

Considerations include the availability of electrical power, most of which will be backed by generators, telephone lines -- 900 lines have been installed at the Convention Center for the media -- and security.

The Little Rock Police Department will be working with the Secret Service, hotel security and specially hired security for the event.

Even camera angles for the media are being taken into consideration.

Bob Williams, one of the event's organizers, says, "This is a particularly challenging event because everything changes every day."

"You'd take a year to plan something like this if you could," says Stan Jackson, Williams' partner in event planning.

Instead, the organizers have had just six weeks.


In addition to organizing activities for the general public, there has been considerable organization with and compensation from the media both for election night and throughout the campaign.

Mike McGinnity, the director of sales and marketing for the Excelsior, says his hotel has benefitted in several ways from the election.

"It's been unique in my business to talk to someone about selling space on my roof," says McGinnity, who is negotiating with news outlets such as CBS and CNN about renting space for their cameras.

The hotel's rentals indoors have done well, too. McGinnity says the Excelsior has rented at least 2,000 rooms directly related to the campaign and another 1,000 rooms have probably come indirectly from the campaign.

The 123-room Capital Hotel has been the most popular hotel with out-of-town media. More than 1,000 rooms have been rented because of the campaign.

Similarly, business is up 10 percent at the Holiday Inn City Center. Hotels outside of downtown, such as the Holiday Inn West, also have received overflow business.

Perhaps most importantly, the campaign has helped established Arkansas in people's minds around the country, which may make them more receptive to vacationing here or coming in for conventions.

Hotels are just one of the many businesses to benefit from the campaign.

John Mauldin, manager of Budget Rent-A-Car Inc., says that at a time he usually starts cutting back his fleet of available cars, he's had to add more. Mauldin says business is up at least 25 percent this year..

Most downtown restaurants tell the same story. John Iriana of Iriana's Pizza says that although his lunch business is usually at capacity anyway, his dinner business has increased 50 percent due to the campaign.

Barry Travis, executive director of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau for the past 13 years, says the campaign and the attention it's brought Arkansas is the most positive public relations tool he's seen.

Tax collections in Little Rock were up 10-12 percent for the month of August. Travis says the collections were up another 8 percent from what was expected for September. He can't imagine October being much different.

For the three-month period, collections are up by about $90,000 for the city.

Travis says everything is happening so quickly that he thinks more positive aspects from the campaign will be noticeable after the election.

He says he can't see any negative impact from the campaign, even though some are worrying about the number of people who might show up at America's Watch Party.

Then again, says Travis, "I call that a wonderful problem."

Behind the Scenes

A Look at Who's in Charge at America's Watch Party '92

LIKE RIVERFEST, AUGUST in Arkansas or any of Little Rock's major events, America's Watch Party '92 has an elaborate network of support and volunteers to make certain the event is a success.

In fact, many of the people who have worked at both Riverfest and August in Arkansas are working on the election night watch party in downtown Little Rock.

Robyn Dickey, who was festival director of August in Arkansas, is project coordinator of America's Watch Party. With more than 20 years in event planning, Dickey at one time held a position as event planner at the Governor's Mansion.

Roby Brock, former general manager of Shoot The Bull restaurant, joined the Clinton-Gore campaign and then was brought over by the Democratic Party to be assistant project coordinator to Dickey.

The logistic team handling site coordination and security is made up of Stan Jackson and Bob Williams, two Little Rock businessmen who have made event planning their hobby.

For American's Watch Party, Jackson is handling the site coordination while Williams is in charge of organizing the security.

The duo works as a good guy-bad guy team, with Williams often having to play the heavy.

"It just seems to be something I do well," says Williams.

Rounding out the team of behind-the-scenes leaders is Neel Lattimore, coordinating media placement for the evening.

Lattimore was handling press advances for Hillary Clinton when he was called to direct media coordination for the watch party.

"It's hectic, but we're ready," says Lattimore. "The world is coming to Little Rock."
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 2, 1992
Previous Article:Motives or just money? A look at the people behind the political newcomers.
Next Article:The Clinton Corps.

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