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Behind the application: Belmont submits bid for 2016 presidential debate

While Belmont turned in its application to host a 2016 presidential debate on March 27, the process took months of careful planning and preparation and involved many different aspects of the university.

Belmont is among 13 other schools and two cities that have submitted applications to the Commission on Presidential Debates to host a presidential general election debate in the fall of 2016.

The commission has not announced how many sites it will choose, but in 2012 four sites were selected with three chosen for presidential debates and one for the vice presidential debate.

Belmont hosted the Presidential Town Hall Debate in 2008 and applied to host one in 2012, but was not accepted.

John Carney, the director of university marketing and public relations, said Belmont and Nashville has changed so much since then, and the university is better equipped to host a debate now.

“In 2008, Belmont had to rely on some satellite locations to fulfill the requirements of hosting a debate,” Carney said. “Belmont now houses new state-of-the-art campus enhancements that allow us to handle everything required in on-campus facilities.”

Carney oversaw a committee which met once a week during the fall semester to go over every inch of university facilities. The committee comprised of representatives from the president’s office, university marketing and public relations, IT services, campus security, facilities management and several other organizations.

“The most rewarding part for me was having the opportunity to work with a team of campus leaders to develop this 2016 presidential debate application,” Carney said.

The weekly meetings were a mix of nostalgia and anticipation as many involved in the application were on hand to witness the debate in 2008. Carney said the experience they brought to the table was “extremely helpful” as the application process went along.

The application submitted in March was 34 pages long and filled with pictures from Debate ‘08 and included a printed version of the myBelmont homepage, highlighting different aspects of the university.

The application was designed to showcase not only Belmont as a world class facility, but the city of Nashville as well.

Letters of support were included in the application from Sen. Lamar Alexander, Sen. Bob Corker, Rep. Jim Cooper, Mayor Karl Dean, Gov. Bill Haslam and local business leaders as well including the presidents of Chamber of Commerce and Bridgestone and the senior vice president of Nissan.

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According to the application, the debate would be held in the Curb Event Center, and the lawn would be completely taken over by the massive media tent which would house all the members of the press. The lawn will also be the parking lot for the fleet of satellite trucks from different news networks. The media catering tent, which would serve alcohol, would also be on the lawn.

During its weekly meeting, the committee tried to balance the functional needs of a student-centered university and the functional needs of the debate, which would turn Belmont into a miniature political convention for a weekend.

The committee wanted to keep certain student-centered spots, like the fitness center, open for use, and could even go as far as planning fall break during the debate.

The application process will cost the university $8,000, which goes toward administrative costs, preselection site survey and technical evaluations by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

For Carney, the most difficult part of the application was not making the school look debate ready–it was fitting all the stories that highlight Belmont into one application he said.

“Belmont has an amazing story to share, and our facilities have been enhanced and expanded since being selected in 2008. It was quite challenging to limit our content based on all the amazing stories we have to tell,” Carney said.

The next step for the application process is an onsite visit, which would take place sometime between May and June.

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