Candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination will debate in Mesa Wednesday. Mesa Mayor Scott Smith will talk about the debate and the events surrounding it.
Ted Simons: Tomorrow night Mesa will host what could be the final Republican debate of the primary election season. The nationally televised CNN debate is expected to bring a lot of attention to Arizona in general, and Mesa in particular. Here to talk with what the debate means to his city and the state is Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. Always a pleasure. Good to see you thanks for joining us.
Scott Smith: Thanks Ted for having me.
Ted Simons: Are you ready for all this? It's a lot of hoo ha going on.
Scott Smith: Oh we're ready for it, we've been preparing, and there is a lot of HOO HA, and it's exciting to see how things are coming together.
Ted Simons: Talk about the preparations. What's involved?
Scott Smith: There's a lot involved. CNN came in four or five days ago and completely remade the stage on the ikeda theater, it's beautiful, it's stunning, and then they of course have set up places all around the art center campus to broadcast from, it's great to turn on CNN and see beautiful Arizona weather, palm trees, and the Mesa arts center.
Ted Simons: I was going to say I was watching CNN yesterday, it looked like when they were out here for the Super Bowl, ESPN's out here for the Super Bowl, it has that Arizona look in the winter time, the sun was shining, it looked pretty good. As far as traffic considerations, closed-off areas, what's going on?
Scott Smith: We're going to close off all the streets around the arts center, but it's both for security, but we're going to have a party. CNN says they don't know of any other city that's done this. That is that outside the -- if you don't have tickets for the debate, which means most of us, what we're going to do is have a street party, we're going to have a debate viewing party with music, and food, and right down there on main street, we're going to have a huge 14 by 20-foot outdoor screen, so if you want to really -- this is a celebration. More than just a debate, it's a celebration of democracy. We're going to have the celebration in the street downtown.
Ted Simons: Talk about the effort to get this in Mesa, to get this in downtown Mesa, and who you had to -- you had to lobby CNN I'm sure, and talk to the state GOP as well? What was that all about? Talk to us about that.
Scott Smith: Governor Brewer did a great job in getting the debate for Arizona. That's something she worked really hard with. Once that debate was decided, the question was where. We put in our bid early, we said we wanted you to look at Mesa. I was confident if we could get CNN and the Republican party out to the arts center, which is a state of the art beautiful facility, that they would see that was the only place to have it, and sure enough when CNN came and met with our staff, they toured the facility, they recognized Mesa certainly has a very sound and solid Republican base, you add that to the facility itself, and it was an easy choice for us.
Scott Smith: I was going to say, it does help that Mesa is a pretty strong Republican town.
Scott Smith: And we did -- I think we reminded them of that once or twice during the process. I can't recall but I think that did come up.
Ted Simons: I'm sure it did come up. But there were hurdles I'm sure along the way were there not? Talk to us about that. What were the challenges involved?
Scott Smith: Absolutely. The one hurdle is finding time in the schedule. The arts center is a busy place. And, for example, one of the dates they suggested would have caused us to bump Isak Pearlman. You know, we think the debate's great, but nobody bumps Isak Pearlman from the Mesa Arts Center. Just finding a date where CNN could come in, we could clear out the arts center for four or five days was the biggest challenge. Once we got over that we worked closely with the GOP, state party, with CNN, and with our staff. We have an incredible staff at the Arts Center. And they put it all together.
Ted Simons: Surrounding businesses, any grumbling going on, closing off the street, there goes my business?
Scott Smith: They're not only not grumbling, they're ecstatic. This has brought in hundreds of people. CNN has a crew of over a hundred itself. The number of credentialjournalists has more than doubled from what we had expected in November. So downtown businesses are loving it. When we get -- what we hope are literally thousands of people in downtown Mesa tomorrow night to celebrate, it will be a great boom for Mesa and the surrounding areas.
Ted Simons: Talk about that in general the economic impact on Mesa.
Scott Smith: We know we have two or three hotels that have completely sold out just from out of state people coming in. They've been here a week. I talked to the CNN people, they tell me all the restaurants they've gone to, all the places they've visited, rental cars, this is another great event where you bring in outside money, and they deposit it in our cities. It's great.
Ted Simons: What about the cost to Mesa? How much is this costing the city?
Scott Smith: What we really cost is opportunity. We didn't charge CNN to use the facility, but other than that CNN is picking up all the actual of costs production, and other than a couple of coats of paint and sprucing up a little bit that we've done and some of the security we would normally do for a large public event, CNN is basically underwriting this, because it's their production.
Ted Simons: I want to go back to the idea of lobbying and trying to get this once the Republican Party figured out they wanted it in Arizona. Were there other cities trying -- it sounds like you guys made the full court press pretty quickly, was it a battle out there at all or was it over real quick?
Scott Smith: I don't think it was a battle there. But there were three basic -- three areas and venues they actually considered. One was downtown Phoenix, another one was ASU at Gammage, and the Mesa arts center. I think one thing that the arts center had over the other two, it's a pretty new facility. It's five, six years old, state of the art audio and visual and lighting, and as CNN said, this is very much a plug and play type of a facility. They could come in, and with a minimal of additional equipment, they could integrate the art center's state of the art equipment, and it's a beautiful facility. And that's what I think sold them. Just the whole setting, the facts they didn't have to interrupt school, they didn't have to deal with heavy traffic downtown. They could do things in Mesa with less interruptions and it was easier to be done, and the facility sold itself.
Ted Simons: You have tried, we've talked about this before, you've tried to change the image of Mesa, and Mesa for better or worse, some folks like the way Mesa is, a little sleepy, a little bedroom community, not a whole heck of a lot going on there. You tried to change that. How is it going so far?
Scott Smith: I'm not going to deny that one of the reasons to pursue something like this is that nobody thought we could get it. Mesa is the city that every one underestimates, I believe. And for good reason, in many ways. But there's no doubt that we tried hard because we wanted to prove not only that we could attract this, but we could pull it off. We do it every year with spring training, we did it with first solar, we've done it with the light rail, we've done it with gateway airport. We have a long string of successes that show Mesa is really the boom town, it's where things are happening, and this debate is another example of great things going on in Mesa.
Ted Simons: When it's all over, how do you quantify the success rate? How do you know it worked, how do you know it was a good thing?
Scott Smith: Tomorrow we'll make sure we get through a debate without any problems. And I'm hoping we will, and so far so good. Until it's done, we won't know. It's hard to quantify good publicity. It's hard to quantify what it means to the state to have a debate that is the central piece of this campaign perhaps. This is pivotal. And CNN is telling us they're expecting the largest audience, the most interest that they've had for any of their debates. And I think it's hard to quantify. Our job first of all was to make Arizona look good. We want people to look at Arizona and say, with all the things you might have heard, this is a place of good people, great opportunity, in addition to the great weather, and if we can do that by showing showcasing Mesa and the great things Mesa arts center, that's even better.
Ted Simons: Mayor, it's good to have you here. Good luck tomorrow.
Scott Smith: Thank you.