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In the two weeks leading up to the tightly contested presidential race, Rockefeller Center has been awash with patriotism—and full of artifacts, news crews, and multimedia presentations. NBC Universal (Rock Center's most famous tenant) and Tishman Speyer Properties (its owner) remade the iconic location as Democracy Plaza, which combined a public civic lesson and a home base for the media company's various news outlets.
NBC conceived of the idea in late 80's but it took time to bring the concept to fruition because of the magnitude of the event. “It is the largest event we've ever done at Rockefeller Center,” says Glenn Mahoney, director of special events at Tishman Speyer at Rockefeller Center, the event's manager and producer. But after getting the approval of building owners and sponsorship by Bank of America, NBC worked with Tishman Speyer to prepare Democracy Plaza in just two months—the quickest turnaround time ever for an event at Rockefeller Center. Mahoney worked closely with Robert Dembo, the director of NBC's national news desk, to produce the event, and event marketing company Jack Morton Worldwide coproduced the events' exhibits.
The free, public event runs along Rockefeller Center from 48th Street to 51st Street. In the center area of the plaza are outdoor performances, ranging from sparring high-school debate teams to skits on the importance of voting by DY! Hip-poets. A 65-foot-tall media tower in this area holds two 10- by 12-foot LED screens, which show old campaign videos and memorable speeches by famous politicians. A news zipper runs around the top of the tower. A 25- by 35-foot television screen sits in front of the tower, showing a live broadcast from the multitude of broadcast booths cantilevered over the skating rink for NBC's local and national news teams, CNBC, MSNBC, the Today show, and Telemundo, among others. The screen also serves as the backdrop for anchor Tom Brokaw's broadcast booth.
At the south end is a kids' area sponsored by Scholastic, where children can write letters to the next president and pin them to a flag, learn how to vote at computerized stations, see historic campaign videos from the 1950's to the present, and hear stories from fictional characters, such as Clifford the Big Red Dog, outside of a train caboose. The 60,000-pound caboose sits on its own railroad ties and tracks (which weigh 12,000 pounds) and is enclosed in a 50- by 100-foot tent.
At the north end of the plaza is the “Timeline of Democracy,” a 50- by 200-foot tent with artifacts and memorabilia from 1776 to the present, collected by Norman Lear's Declare Yourself campaign, American History Workshop founder and president Richard Rabinowitz, and Mahoney's team. Items range from a full mock-up of the Oval Office, to one of the 25 original copies of the Declaration of Independence and a 14,000-pound, 50-foot section of the fuselage from Nixon's Air Force One, which the public can tour. Mahoney says visible security and undercover security are on hand to guard the millions of dollars worth of artifacts.
On the famous ice rink is a map of the United States used in NBC's election night broadcast. As each state was called, the state's color changed from clear to red or blue as a piece of fabric was placed within the state's borders on the rink and sprayed with water to freeze it to the ice. A camera that could zip up to 60 miles per hour on a cable between the ninth floor of 30 Rockefeller Center and Saks Fifth Avenue provided a bird's-eye view.
Democracy Plaza has been very popular: Before Election Day, Mahoney estimated that 1.5 to 2 million people had already walked through the exhibits. “Our goal was to create a lot of excitement and get people excited about voting and being a citizen,” he said.
—Ellen Sturm Niz