September 24, 2004
The first physical sign of the Oct. 13 presidential debate in Tempe is rising as Arizona State University starts constructing a $1 million "tent" to house more than 1,000 journalists.
Crews have placed steel beams over an expansive wooden platform outside Gammage Auditorium, where Mill Avenue meets Apache Boulevard. When finished, the air-conditioned structure will cover nearly 40,000 square feet and provide power, phone and high-speed Internet connections for media outlets from all over the world.
"We are building a temporary newspaper that's twice the size of The New York Times newsroom for a one-day event," said Virgil Renzulli, ASU's vice president for public affairs.
The media center will be the closest that most reporters will get to the last debate of the 2004 campaign between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Designed largely for television, the debate will force ASU officials to remove most of Gammage's 3,500 seats, leaving enough room only for 350 to 400 people.
At this point, debate officials plan to allow anchors from the major news networks and about 100 newspaper reporters to watch inside the auditorium. Hundreds of other journalists will watch on monitors in the media center.
Those journalists will have immediate access to "spin alley," a part of the media center where some of the nation's top politicians and political experts will provide instant analysis after the debate.
Work began on the media center even before the Bush and Kerry campaigns agreed Monday to locations and topics for three debates. ASU officials said they couldn't hold off any longer, even though at that point the campaigns could have canceled the debate.
"This is the biggest thing we have ever done, except to host the Super Bowl (in 1996)," Renzulli said.
The media debate center is being funded by donations and in-kind contributions. Former Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano said ASU had wanted to place the center in an existing campus building. Media representatives argued that there was no suitable building close enough to Gammage.
So ASU agreed to erect the enormous tent, raising the overall cost of hosting the event to $2.5 million from $1.5 million, said Giuliano, an ASU administrator who is co-chairman of the debate preparation committee.