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R.N.C. Preview: What It Took to Transform an N.B.A. Arena Into a Convention Venue in One Month

Find out how two massive screens and hundreds of light fixtures will be used to customize the look and feel of the event.

By Mitra Sorrells July 14, 2016, 7:15 AM EDT

Organizers are making use of every corner of Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention.

Photo: Courtesy of ThisisCleveland.com

Thousands of Cleveland Cavaliers fans packed Quicken Loans Arena June 19 for a watch party for the final game of the N.B.A. championship series. While the Cavaliers' win marked the culmination of a decades-long drive to bring home a championship, for the people constructing the Republican National Convention stage and facilities in the same venue it signaled “time to get to work.” The convention opens Monday, four weeks and a day after that N.B.A. game, making this the shortest build time ever for a Republican convention, according to Audrey Scagnelli, the national press secretary at the Committee on Arrangements.

“We’re not working quite 24/7, but we do have crews in there close to 24/7. The good news is we knew this was a distinct possibility, so we were able to plan ahead and figure out how to do it in a shorter time period,” Scagnelli says. The work is being led by Freeman as the general contractor.

The backdrop of the set will be two massive 50-foot-wide video boards totaling 1,711 square feet. The top screen is convex, which executive producer Phil Alongi says will “broaden out the convention to embrace as much as possible.” The lower screen is concave “to draw the audience in … so those folks that are at home watching as well as those folks here are being embraced and warmly feel all of the elements that we are so consciously designing.” The set’s 647 moving light fixtures, mounted on a 140,000-pound lighting grid, will allow producers to change the texture, color, and tone of the convention as needed.

Alongi's background as a former NBC News producer has influenced his design. “This is a news event, and [Alongi] wanted to create a design that was reflective of that and wanted to create a design that had a really good flow,“ Scagnelli says. “There’s an area on the right side as you are looking at the stage for a band for backup music. And again with the lighting—the look and feel of the stage can really shift.” Alongi and his team have been working on the design for several months, before Trump became the nominee, and since then they have had ongoing discussions with his campaign.

Quicken Loans Arena is smaller than the Tampa Bay Times Forum, which hosted the convention in 2012. Scagnelli says they have been “creative in their use of space,” for example using locker rooms as offices and covering a whirlpool bath to create more floor space. Crews have also removed 856 seats from the arena to make room for the stage and then added 2,472 seats to the floor for delegates.

The 20,000 credentialed attendees will find a new feature at the convention: an area outside the arena dubbed Freedom Plaza that will have live music, food for sale, and the Freedom Marketplace with nearly two dozen businesses selling products custom-made for the convention.

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