Democratic Convention Spreads Delegate Welcome Parties Across 12 Venues

By Mitra Sorrells July 25, 2012, 2:01 PM EDT

About 250 delegates to the Democratic National Convention will attend a welcome event at the Duke Mansion, which was built in 1915 and opened as a historic inn and meeting center in 1998.

Photo: Paul Purser

While the Republican National Convention in Tampa will open with one massive party for 20,000 delegates and media, just one week later the Democratic National Convention will use an entirely different strategy: hosting a media party on September 1 followed by 12 unique welcome events for delegates in venues throughout Charlotte on September 2. Mary Tribble, deputy executive director for hospitality and events for the Charlotte in 2012 Convention Host Committee, said the strategy is based on several factors, including a desire to create intimate atmospheres for the delegates to reunite and network.

“The two biggest things were that, one, we really want to paint a picture of what Charlotte has to offer, and we felt we could tell that story more accurately by selecting 12 different venues that each depict an interesting piece of Charlotte’s story,” Tribble said. “The second major driver, for me personally as well as for the host committee and for the Democratic National Convention Committee, is that we are very committed to hiring as many small, local businesses as possible. So we figured if we have 12 different events, then we get to hire 12 different event planners, 12 different caterers, 12 different entertainers and 12 different photographers. So it became an economic-development decision as much as choice on how you throw a party.”

The host committee announced the venues in January—a diverse list that includes the U.S. National Whitewater Center, the Nascar Hall of Fame, and several museums and historic mansions—and invited planners to submit proposals. The committee received 130 submissions from more than 40 companies and in May announced its selections, along with the assignment of delegations to each venue. Half of the venues are in the downtown area, known as Uptown Charlotte, while the other six are outside of town. “So we thought about things like if you are staying Uptown, it would be fun for you to go outside of Uptown for your delegate event. And if a delegation is staying outside of Uptown, we thought let’s bring them in,” Tribble said. “And then part of it was science. It just fell down to the numbers and the math as far as venue capacity.”

Each party will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. and include open bars and heavy hors d’oeuvres. The host committee assigned the budget and is overseeing each event to ensure consistency in areas such as the quality and size of the menus. “The main thing we’ve asked the planners to do is to concentrate on telling the story of Charlotte and to maximize the attributes of the venue,” Tribble said.

Sally Webb, owner of the Special Event, is in charge of the party at Discovery Place science museum for nearly 1,500 delegates from Texas, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. “Charlotte has a big history in energy and energy development, so we are telling that story,” Webb said. In addition to encouraging guests to explore the dozens of hands-on exhibits in the museum, Webb has invited local high school students to create centerpieces that demonstrate how energy is important to them, while another group of students is creating centerpieces about the voting process. “They are in the creative process now. It will be fascinating to see what they deliver,” Webb said.

At the Duke Mansion, April Ellerbe of New Century Planning is using a 1920s and '30s theme for the 250 delegates from Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Guam, American Samoa, and Wyoming. “We will have a whiskey bar on the front porch and a cigar-rolling station, and then inside we will a big band and flappers serving passed hors d’oeuvres,” Ellerbe said. Outside, a large tent with uplighting will have displays of ‘20s- and '30’s-style artwork created by students at art institutes in Charlotte and Durham.

At the Levine Museum of the New South, Creative Events’ Beth Redlich-Mattos plans to create an atmosphere of “warm, Southern hospitality.” Greeters will welcome delegates from Colorado, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon, and guide them around the two-story museum and its two main exhibits: a permanent display about the history of the Charlotte region since the Civil War and a temporary exhibit about the 400-year history of the region's Jewish population. Redlich-Mattos has created a menu that complements both exhibits, with Southern favorites such as shrimp and grits, banana pudding shooters, and peach cobbler, and Jewish food like potato knishes, mini-corned beef sliders, and matzo ball soup. Decor will be simple, she said: “Lots of magnolias. Vessels of peaches. Baskets of fruits and vegetables. The foods will all be locally sourced and served on big farm tables and also passed.”

Dina Berg Blazek has ordered custom croquet sets for the party she is creating at the 380-acre Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden for 350 delegates from Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and West Virginia. The croquet sets will incorporate teal, orange, green, and yellow colors, which will repeat in lounge seating and chairs spread throughout the property. “It is very much a Southern garden party,” Blazek said. Most of the food will be located inside a tent on the venue’s main lawn. The menu will include a variety of locally sourced food, and decidedly Southern beverages: a moonshine station and iced tea-based cocktails.

The night before the delegate parties, more than 15,000 members of the media and V.I.P.s will attend a party at the North Carolina Music Factory. The 37-acre venue near Uptown Charlotte was an abandoned textile mill before a local father-and-son team purchased the property and turned it into an entertainment complex.

“The story is there for us to tell,” Tribble said. “The venue is about our heritage in terms of textiles. It’s about this can-do attitude in Charlotte, and then also it’s this fabulous venue. It’s really 14 venues within a venue. It’s not a cavernous convention center.” The party will include a mix of national and regional entertainment in the venue’s 5,000-seat amphitheater, comedians in the comedy club, and craft beer sampling in the VBGB Beer Hall & Garden. The property’s nightclubs will become V.I.P. areas.

Guests can navigate the party using an interactive, digital map available as a smartphone download that will instruct them on how to find specific food and entertainment.

For further coverage of this year's political conventions, click here.

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