Debate adjacent

Local community prepares with wedding, cocktails as University welcomes political hullabaloo next door

| Senior Editor

As national media, politicians and protesters descend on Washington University’s new Sumers Recreation Center for the quadrennial ceremony of a presidential debate, a different kind of ceremony will be taking place just across the street. And while there are likely to be many dissenters among the debate-faring crowd, one lucky couple will hopefully have none.

Media spots for live video are taped off in tents outside the Athletic Center.

Media spots for live video are taped off in tents outside the Athletic Center.

Yes, there will be a wedding celebration on Saturday at Bethel Lutheran Church on the corner of Big Bend Boulevard and Forsyth Boulevard, as Senior Pastor William Yancey brings together two people in holy matrimony. No, their names are not Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

All around the borders of the University, residents and business owners like Yancey and his congregation are preparing for the opportunities and challenges of a presidential debate on their doorstep.

Yancey, for his part, said the wedding was planned almost a year ago, and only coincidentally overlaps with the debate weekend.

Traffic and parking, he said, will be the biggest worry. The church often uses the surrounding streets as parking for the congregation during their Sunday morning worship.

On top of that, Big Bend Boulevard will be closed between Wydown Boulevard and Forest Park Parkway starting Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. until 6 a.m. on Monday. Yancey said the church will likely use other side streets, such as Lindell Boulevard and Maryland Avenue for parking, as well as a member of the congregation to direct traffic.

While the occasion of a marriage provides some extra challenges, Yancey, who has served as senior pastor since 1988, has plenty of experience with logistical disruptions.

“We’re kind of used to it in the sense that—I can’t tell you how many marathons have come by our place on Sunday mornings,” Yancey joked.

The church also has a bit of a history with their neighbor’s frequent presidential debates.

“Years ago, we used to invite all the candidates to come for a barbecue,” Yancey said.

And though the offer of ribs was never taken up, Yancey said his congregation is generally excited about the upcoming debate.

The Catholic Student Center, located on Forsyth Boulevard, is also making arrangements for its Sunday services. Instead of their usual 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. masses on Sunday, the church will hold a single 4 p.m. mass on Saturday.

“Combining those two masses into one mass, maybe we’ll have plenty of space because it’s an unusual mass time for us and maybe all [of our usual parishioners] will still come and we’ll be overflowing,” Campus Minister Mark Zaegel said.

Others in the community are similarly excited, even with the commotion and traffic caused by Secret Service road closures and the increased media presence.

Over at Blueberry Hill, an establishment known more for it’s distilled spirits than it’s holy ones, owner Joe Edwards said the debate will bring plenty of extra business to the area.

“I expect a lot of people to come in. The Moonrise Hotel is the closest hotel, so that’s really filled up with reservations from media around the world,” Edwards, who also owns and operates the Moonrise, said.

It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, though, as Edwards expects the day of the debate to be relatively quiet customer-wise.

“Before the debates and all, there will be a lot of increased business, but all the media people from around the world—that day of the debate—man, oh man they hunker down with sandwiches in a trailer or whatever,” Edwards said.

After the debate is another story.

“The night of, after the debate is over…people come in. A lot of politicians statewide and local ones will come in the area just to kind of debrief each other.”

Local businesses are generally getting in the spirit of the season and perhaps hoping to make a few sales off of the increased media and public attention. Millbrook Pharmacy’s window display currently features a myriad of political paraphernalia, from miniature American flags to Trump and Clinton masks.

Blueberry Hill, meanwhile is featuring political-themed mixed drinks: a Red Royal for red state voters and a Blue Hawaiian for blue state voters. Each purchase comes with an election-themed button that reads “Come have a beer after you vote. It will make any outcome better!”

“I just like to have fun with things, even if they’re serious events like this—as serious as can be for what it means for the future of our country,” Edwards said of the promotions.

The Forsyth School, where students pre-K through sixth grade aren’t yet of age for Red Royals and Blue Hawaiians, isn’t too concerned with the debate interrupting their schedule.

Their campus will be closed all weekend in order to avoid any kind of logistical issues. No sports practices or events were planned for the weekend, thanks to consistent prior communication from the University.

“We got notice of the presidential debates like last winter, even before I did the school calendar, I knew,” Director of Communications and Marketing Phoebe Ruess said.

Most children won’t be on campus Friday either, because the school will be conducting parent-teacher conferences. Aside from closing campus though, Head of School Mike Vachow joked there was one other effect of the debate’s timing.

“The biggest impact is that on Friday, when the [Anheuser-Busch] Clydesdales are coming down Forsyth, the children aren’t going to be here,” he said.

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