By Peter H. Milliken
If you’re attending Monday’s Covelli Centre rally featuring President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, you probably should carpool, arrive early and dress for wet, windy weather.
The doors to the 6,000-seat arena will open for the rally at 2:30 p.m., with the rally starting at 4 p.m. and ending about 6:30 p.m., said Kelsey Rupert, the arena’s director of sales and marketing.
With lane restrictions on Interstate 680 due to road construction, she advised using main city streets as alternate routes.
However, City Police Chief Rod Foley advises of some significant street closures.
South Avenue will be closed from the Interstate 680 interchange to downtown; but Market Street will be open, except for a brief closure.
“All motorists should use the north, east and west approaches in and out of downtown,” after noon Monday to avoid delays, Foley advised.
Except for access to the post office, Walnut Street will be closed between Boardman and Front streets. Champion Street will be closed between Boardman and Front streets.
Parking will be prohibited on Front Street between South Avenue and Phelps Street.
“Early morning traffic will not be affected by the visit. Motorists can commute to work as normal,” the police chief said.
WET AND WINDY
The presidential visit will be accompanied by high winds and wet weather.
The center of Hurricane Sandy will parallel the southeastern Atlantic Coast through the weekend, with tropical storm force winds spiraling out as far as 450 miles, the National Weather Service said.
Once the weekend is over, the storm is forecast to turn northwest, directly hitting the mid-Atlantic or northeastern states.
In Youngstown, Monday’s forecast calls for a 100 percent chance of rain, with a high near 49 degrees.
A flood watch will be in effect from late Sunday evening through Tuesday evening for Mahoning and Trumbull counties, with the Atlantic storm moving west on Tuesday and dropping about four inches of rain on northwest Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio.
A high-wind watch will be in effect here from Monday afternoon through Tuesday morning, with north to northwest winds of 35 to 45 mph, and gusts to 65 mph.
For those who do brave the weather to attend the rally, “very limited” free parking, including about 20 handicapped spaces, will be available in the Covelli Centre lot on a first-come, first-served basis, Rupert said.
The exact number of on-site parking spaces won’t be known until details are worked out concerning the locations of TV network satellite uplink trucks, Rupert noted.
Access to the arena’s parking will be from the Phelps Street entrance off West Front Street, Foley said.
Additional parking will be available in the Plaza Place parking deck and in privately-owned surface lots near the arena, on the south side of Front Street between the City Hall Annex and The Vindicator, on Boardman Street near City Hall and elsewhere in the city’s downtown, Rupert noted.
No shuttle buses are planned to take people from downtown parking lots to the arena, Rupert said.
Everyone entering the arena for the rally must undergo a metal-detector screening, have a ticket and not carry backpacks or bags, umbrellas, food or drink or anything that might be construed as a potential weapon, Rupert said.
Attendees should carry “absolutely nothing that is unnecessary to go in to see this rally,” she said. “I would bring just yourself, your (photo) ID and your ticket,” she advised.
“This is going to be the highest level of security that you’ll ever see,” Rupert said.
A full house is expected, and the arena’s box office and concession stands will be closed, Rupert said.
“Ohio has traditionally been crucial to the campaign trail, and to have the opportunity to host the president of the United States will be an exciting first for our facility,” said Eric Ryan, arena executive director.
A Youngstown Phantoms hockey game against the Waterloo Blackhawks has been rescheduled from 4 p.m. to 2 p.m. today to enable sufficient time to prepare the arena for the Obama rally, Rupert said.
“We are able to hold a historic event at the Covelli Centre due to their flexibility,” Ryan said of the Phantoms.
Secret Service agents were surveying the arena Friday, making advance security arrangements for the rally with local law enforcement and arena officials.
On Friday, as a large U.S. Secret Service surveillance helicopter circled low overhead, people stood in line beginning at 7:30 a.m., each waiting to obtain a single ticket to the rally on a first-come, first-served basis.Distribution of 4,000 tickets began there at noon.
Other free tickets were distributed at campaign offices in Boardman and Warren.
An Obama campaign spokesman said all available tickets were distributed.
This is the first time since the Democratic National Convention that President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton have campaigned together.
The Covelli Centre will hold about 5,000 to 6,000 for Monday’s event.
Obama and Clinton will travel Monday to political events in Youngstown ,Orlando, Fla., and Prince William County, Va., three key swing states in this election.
The visit comes eight days before the Nov. 6 election.
It is Obama’s second campaign visit to the Mahoning Valley this year. He made stops July 6 in Boardman and Poland.
The Covelli Centre box office will be closed Monday along with the concession stands for the Obama Rally.
Downtown businesses are adjusting hours and staff to accommodate the crowds.
Roberto’s Italian Restaurante on West Federal Street usually closes right after the lunch hour on Mondays, but owner Roberto Faraglia said staff will be there to feed the hungry crowds — including the president, should he stop in. Faraglia said those planning to be downtown can make reservations to come in and eat, but walk-ins are welcome.
Ed Moses, co-owner of the V2 Restaurant also on West Federal, said he anticipates large crowds Monday night and his restaurant will be open normal hours and fully staffed to accommodate the presidential crowd.
“We are going to be open and ready,” he said. “I hope [the President] stops in here.”
O’Donold’s Bar has been open downtown for only a few weeks, but manager Jerry Schonhut said the bar will have extra staff and be open at the close of the rally.
“We will be putting on extra staff for that evening. We don’t have food yet, but the bar opens at 4 p.m.” he said. “We suspect with President Obama and President Clinton in town people will want to hang around, discuss politics and have a drink. This is the place to do it.”
Although parking might present challenges for some, paving on Interstate 680, initially thought to continue into next week, wrapped up Friday evening, said Brent Kovacs, Ohio Department of Transportation District 4 spokesman.
“It had been expected to carry through next week, but the contractor was really pushing because of the weather,” Kovacs said.
A severe storm is expected this week, and paving can only be done with temperatures at about 40 degrees or higher. I-680 between Midlothian and Market Street had lane restrictions throughout the summer. The speed limit is expected to return to the posted 50 mph.
“They may have a lane closed at some times to do some raised pavement markings or do rumble strips, but there will be no more permanent work with two lanes closed at a time,” Kovacs said.
CONTRIBUTORS: David Skolnick, Ashley Luthern and John W. Goodwin Jr.