Wednesday's Republican primary presidential debate at the Mesa Arts Center will be closed to the public, but the city will host a viewing party downtown where thousands can gather to watch the event live.
Downtown will have plenty of room for spectators despite tight security and road closures, City Manager Chris Brady said. A 14-foot by 20-foot screen will show the debate, with live bands and food vendors nearby.
Mesa talked with other debate hosts about security provisions but heard nothing about viewing parties.
"We haven't been able to find anybody that's done that," Brady said. "Maybe it happened but it's never shown up on the radar. CNN, when we asked them, said ‘We never thought about that.'"
Mesa is working to take advantage of being in the spotlight for the first presidential debate it's ever hosted. The city has already done some spring cleaning and is posting festive banners as it prepares for 400 journalists who CNN said to expect in its media tent.
Downtown will remain accessible except for Main Street and Center along the arts center. The roads are closing for security reasons. Also, the adjacent eight-story office building owned by the Mesa Unified School District will close in the afternoon. The closure won't affect school operations, district spokeswoman Helen Hollands said.
A fence will surround the arts center campus, which debate host CNN is renting; CNN is also putting up the media tent for hundreds of reporters.
Even protestors will have an area. Some anti-war demonstrators have already called Mesa to inquire about the site, Brady said.
Mesa is hoping the debates draw a huge crowd to showcase its downtown, Brady said.
"If they couldn't get in, we want them to come and enjoy our viewing party," he said. "We don't know - we can only hope maybe some of the candidates will actually come out and talk to people."
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