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DNC switches venues for convention's Labor Day party

In the second major change to the Democratic National Convention schedule, organizers announced Monday night they are moving the much-touted Labor Day festival from Charlotte Motor Speedway to uptown Charlotte.

In January, officials said they were shortening the convention to three days, and would forgo the traditional Monday opening for a festival at the Speedway to reach a wider audience.

At the time, the party chairwoman said the change was about “engaging Americans in a meaningful way.”

But Monday night, host committee officials said moving the Speedway event will provide attendees with a much stronger connection to the convention.

Hosting the CarolinaFest event along the Tryon Street corridor instead of 20 miles outside uptown makes for easier logistics, said host committee spokeswoman Suzi Emmerling.

Delegates and members of the public who want to attend caucus meetings happening uptown can do so without missing the festival, Emmerling said.

“It really is about creating an experience that people feel like they have a taste of the convention,” said Dan Murrey, DNC host committee executive director. “And just given the accessibility to uptown versus the speedway, the connection to the convention, and the caucus meetings, we took a step back, consulted very thoroughly with our partners in the city, and made the decision this is going to be more in line with our original goals of the event.”

Emmerling wouldn’t disclose the amount to move the event, but said contractual obligations with the Speedway will still be honored.

Officials said neither money nor cost is a factor in the move. Democrats have denied news reports that they are having trouble raising the $36.6 million needed to fund the convention.

Just last month, the local host committee unveiled an official stock car for the Democratic National Convention – and said it could have taken a spin around the speedway at the Labor Day event.

The event was touted by organizers as being family-friendly and something that would engage “more Americans in the convention than ever before, and celebrate Labor Day, our democracy, the Carolinas, Virginia and the South.”

But the Speedway festival had attracted little interest among correspondents planning to cover the DNC. In a media gathering June 5, in which advance teams were bused out to Concord for a tour of the track and its media center, only representatives from local stations said they were planning to set up there, possibly as a site for anchoring their evening newscasts.

PBS, the first broadcast network to announce its coverage plans last week, said it planned to anchor its Labor Day broadcast on “PBS Newshour” with Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill from Time Warner Cable Arena, but might cover the festivities from Charlotte Motor Speedway as part of the day’s coverage, depending on whether it was newsworthy.

During the convention, PBS intends to devote prime time to the story, but on Labor Day, it plans to revert to normally scheduled programming that night.

Networks, including cable outlets that are expected to cover the convention far more extensively than their network counterparts, had already been struggling with the mechanics of moving up from Tampa’s Republican National convention the week before, then facing a setup in three venues in Charlotte: the Charlotte Motor Speedway, the arena, and finally Bank of America Stadium for what is expected to be Obama’s acceptance speech Thursday night.

Scott Cooper, vice president for communications for the Speedway, said staff was “very disappointed” in the decision to move the festival.

“Charlotte Motor Speedway is a world-class facility with decades of experience hosting major events,” Cooper said.

“Our staff has worked very hard in preparation for Labor Day. We’ll still show the same Southern hospitality the Speedway is famous for to the guests and delegates from around the world who will come to Charlotte in September.”

Rob Lockwood, spokesman for the N.C. Republican Party, referred to reports about some incumbents in tight races skipping the event.

“Over the past two weeks we’ve seen elected Democrats from across the country cancel their trips to the DNC Convention,” he said. “There have been reports that have shown they haven’t raised enough money to pay for the convention, and now it seems they are having trouble just getting people to show up.”

‘Broad participation’

Michael J. Smith, president of Charlotte Center City Partners, said Monday uptown businesses will benefit from the move to Tryon Street.

It will also “enable broad participation due to its accessibility through public transportation,” Smith said.

Convention organizers said they’ll probably encourage the public to take light rail to the festival.

“Uptown Charlotte is tailor made for this type of festival, and the event in uptown will help us achieve our goal of making this the most open and accessible convention in history,” said DNCC CEO Steve Kerrigan.

Organizers haven’t announced specific entertainment plans.

Emmerling said Monday the festival will include speakers, musical performances, children’s activities and the chance for the public to attend caucus meetings, which will be held indoors at locations still to be determined.

Charlotte Observer staff writer Jim Morrill contributed.