The Norman Transcript

October 7, 2012

VP debate brings Danville attention - and a windfall

By RONNIE ELLIS

CNHI News Service

DANVILLE, Ky. — Business usually slumps this time of year as the private college in the heart of this small city in the rolling Kentucky bluegrass lets out for fall break.

There will be no such slowdown this season, with Danville preparing a stage for the second vice presidential debate in its history and the national spotlight that accompanies it.

Danville's Centre College was the setting of the 2000 vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman. The direct tourism effect was nearly $650,000 locally and more than $2.5 million for Kentucky, said Jody Lassiter, president and CEO of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership. That doesn't include indirect spending, or the effects of infrastructure projects.

No one has ventured an estimate of the economic effect of Thursday night's debate between Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, but Lassiter expects it to be better than it was in 2000, even adjusting for inflation.

“It’s a lot bigger event this time, and we’re expecting even more people,” he said.

So far, the college has spent $550,000 and the city $100,000 to get ready for the debate, he said. That money circulates through the local economy, said Lassiter, with each dollar spent turning over as many as seven times.

“It’s hard to put a real value on this sort of thing, but it’s enormous,” he said.

Downtown is already showing signs of the influx Lassiter expects.

Business has been picking up at Thoroughbred Threads for the past two weeks, and owner Marty Sullivan expects things to really take off this week.

Sullivan has a license to make and sell debate T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps and other apparel, though he expects out-of-town visitors to also gravitate toward souvenirs of the University of Kentucky's NCAA basketball championship earlier this year. Thoroughbred Threads also supplies Centre College's demands.

“We think it might add as much as 10 percent to our sales for the entire year,” said Sullivan. “We’re expecting a much bigger crowd than last time.”

Lassiter said all the local hotels - even those in Harrodsburg, 15 miles away - are sold out. Some media and visitors are staying as far away as Lexington.

Down the street from Thoroughbred Threads, Colin Masters runs Bluegrass Pizza and Pub, which he calls “the best pizzeria in Kentucky." Masters said he's looking forward to an influx of business from media and other visitors.

Since the debate 12 years ago, Danville’s voters have approved alcohol sales in restaurants and by the package. That should help Masters’ pizzeria, as well as other restaurants.

Masters expects sales to increase, but he’s just as excited by the widespread exposure he says his business could get.

“I don’t expect the debate business will make my entire year, but it’ll be very good,” he said.

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Ronnie Ellis covers Kentucky politics and government for CNHI News Service. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com.