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Downtown Clearwater prepares for Palin appearance

CLEARWATER — So why is Sarah Palin coming to town? "Why not?" said Mario Diaz, a spokesman for the McCain-Palin campaign. "The bay area is not only a must-stop in any election, but it's also a must-see. What better backdrop than in Clearwater?"

With Tampa Bay shaping up to be a major political battleground, Palin will speak at a rally Monday morning that's expected to draw a good crowd at Coachman Park, which holds about 12,000 people. That means rallygoers and others around downtown Clearwater will be dealing with traffic, parking, closed streets and tight security.

The city is preparing for the event — and bracing for it.

"We are here to support the rally and the people's opportunity to get close to a candidate, and also to minimize their frustrations on event day," said city spokeswoman Joelle Castelli. "Those are our goals."

The gates at Coachman Park open at 6 a.m., with Palin scheduled to speak about 9 a.m.

Fresh off her appearance at Thursday night's vice presidential debate, Palin is making a two-day swing through Florida this week. After Clearwater, she heads to Fort Myers. On Tuesday, she'll make stops in Jacksonville and Pensacola.

Although the bay area is a key battleground in the upcoming election, it's almost unprecedented for a candidate on a presidential ticket to make a stop in Clearwater.

Local historian Mike Sanders wracked his brain Friday, trying to think of others. It's a short list.

Former President Gerald Ford came in 1980, stumping for nominee Ronald Reagan.

Much, much earlier, two-time Democratic presidential candidate Williams Jennings Bryan dedicated Peace Memorial Church downtown in 1922.

In 1987, George H.W. Bush, then vice president, appeared at a fundraising luncheon at the Belleview Biltmore and visited a local drug treatment center.

Sanders watched Bush's motorcade pass by.

"I waved at him," Sanders said. "He popped up and waved at me."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Plan to go? Here's what you need to know about parking and more

Parking: Parking will be available at the Jack Russell Stadium lot, just off Seminole Street, about a mile northwest of the park, but it is expected to fill up quickly. Shuttle buses will run between the stadium and the rally from 6 a.m. to noon. Buses will be wheelchair-accessible and will drop passengers off east of the Clearwater Main Library. After the event, they'll return people to the stadium lot.

During weekend events at Coachman Park, such as the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, concertgoers can park in garages at the County Courthouse or the city's Municipal Services Building. That's discouraged this time because workers will be using those lots Monday. "They're closing them off the night before," Castelli said.

Streets: All roads between Cleveland and Drew streets and from Coachman Park to Fort Harrison Avenue will be closed from 6 a.m. to noon.

Security: Cameras are allowed, but Pinellas GOP chairman Tony DiMatteo recommended that people pack light because they'll be going through a metal detector and security checkpoint.

The library, the windows of which overlook the park, will be closed until noon Monday.

Tickets: Tickets are required, according to the McCain campaign. A total of 9,000 tickets were given out at Pinellas County GOP offices, with more distributed in neighboring counties.

Republican officials said privately that there may be a little leeway — for instance, if five family members show up and only four have tickets, the fifth might get in. But people shouldn't count on that.

Downtown Clearwater prepares for Palin appearance 10/04/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 13, 2008 1:33pm]
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