When the DNC Comes to Town…

Adventures in Parking & Traffic Control at Elevation Uptown

The most brilliant battle plan is only good till the first shot is fired

Attributed to von Clausewitz, Prussian military theorist

When Charlotte was announced as the site for the 2012 Democratic National Convention in February of 2011, something clicked in my mind that the event might impact our church, Elevation Uptown. The schedule hadn’t been announced but early indications of events beginning on Monday September 3 told me that eventually it would impact us.

Sometimes, my hunches are right. This one was dead on.

First of all, you have to understand that Elevation’s Uptown campus (which meets in McGlohan Theater and started in August 2008) is literally in the middle of Uptown Charlotte, and almost everyone who comes drives a car to get there…and parks in the 7th Street Parking deck a block away.

Earlier this year a news release from the DNC indicated “several streets in the Uptown area surrounding the Time Warner Arena will be affected.”

Because of President Obama’s involvement in DNC activities, security plans were not going to be released until several days prior to the convention’s start.

When they were released, we were in for a surprise: the streets leading to, and surrounding, the parking deck we used were going to be closed, with “restricted access.”

Problem.

As noted above, Elevation Uptown worships in a theater, but all our Guests and attenders park in a deck a block away – which just happened to be on the other side of the “restricted access” line.

Campus Pastor Joel Delph met with Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) officials, who assured him that the church would have access to the parking deck by going though the checkpoints. Additionally, an open lot 3 blocks away that we use for our volunteers would be available as usual, as well as the 2 lots next to the theater that we use for VIPs (our first time Guests) and families with small children.

Armed with these assurances, we moved forward with a plan to have our weekend experiences as normal at 9:30 and 11:15. The week before, we encouraged our volunteers to pick up an Elevation logo card to put in the dash to help move through the checkpoints. Late in the week, an email blast went out encouraging people to come a little early to allow extra time for the checkpoint access.

Still, I had that little gnawing feeling in my gut. I take my role as a Guest Services coordinator very seriously, and I wanted to make sure we were ready for the day.

Sunday September 2, 7:30 AM

Pulling up to our Volunteer lot, I find it chained and barricaded

Over at our VIP lots, we found the electronic gates turned off – no access.

Trying to get a handle on what we could expect, I talk to the policeman stationed outside the theater entrance, only to find he’s from Louisville, KY, and doesn’t really know anything except he’s be assigned to this spot – and, by the way, his radio wasn’t working

Checking with other policeman at the parking deck entrance, I found the same thing: they were from Louisville, and only had site-specific orders – no overall idea of the street closure plan. When I showed him the map the CMPD gave us, he said that was the first he had seen of a map.

The quote above came to mind…

By this time, our volunteers were arriving in full force, only to find the lot not accessible. A quick sign adaptation directed them to the parking deck. There, at least, the crew that runs the parking deck was ready in full force. They were only allowing cars that had Elevation logos or were on their approved list into the deck. Everyone else was turned around. The lines were long, and I know people were frustrated.

As expected, our crowds were lower than usual. I don’t know the exact number because I never made it off the street, but I would say probably half as many as a typical Sunday.

Some quick word pictures from street-side vantage point:

  • Squads of law enforcement officials from around the state, walking with an intense look around the area
  • A Hummer with two soldiers, M-16s slung around their shoulders
  • At least 6 different motorcycle patrols checking in to the precinct across the street
  • 4 different bicycle police squads whizzing by in a blur
  • A mounted police patrol clip-clopping down the street
  • Black SUVS by the dozens, with sun-shaded occupants
  • Helicopters buzzing overhead all day long – both military and news outlets
  • Assorted vehicles of every size and shape, belonging to a broad array of law enforcement agencies
  • Construction crews bringing in, and installing, concrete barriers around the perimeter of the theater

And an image that sums it up pretty well:

photo from the Charlotte Observer online

We did the best we could, and I hope anyone attending Elevation Uptown for the first time or for the fortieth time felt as welcome as we could make it.

Special thanks go out to members of our Greeters, VIP, and Security Teams for pitching in and helping things go as smoothly as possible.

As always, our Parking Team rocks. Aaron, Tim, Ed – you’re the best!

I’m headed to the beach…

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