By Whitney Vickers and Scott Halasz
GREENE COUNTY — Shock, sadness and a bit of optimism echoed throughout Greene County following Wright State University’s announcement Tuesday that it would no longer host the first debate for the 2016 presidential election.
The immediate region was expected to feel a $14 million impact, according to Fairborn Area Chamber of Commerce Director Paul Newman Jr., as the event was forecasted to draw 3,000-4,000 media members and other visitors to the area. Later economic estimates included “Raider Country,” or the 16 surrounding counties served by Wright State, in which the impact climbed to $25 million, according to the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The positive effect is that Greene County as a whole is thinking of the bigger picture as we move to the future,” Newman said. “Greene County is second in size, but first in spirit … This laid the groundwork for working together on projects in the future, and I think we’re stronger for it.”
Downtown businesses in the City of Fairborn, as well as those located on Colonel Glenn Highway, were particularly disappointed, according to Newman. He said consumer traffic was expected to trickle away from the immediate Wright State University Nutter Center neighborhood and into other local businesses.
The Hilton Garden Inn by the Mall at Fairfield Commons was expecting a big week of activities.
“We were basically full,” said General Manager Sonya Harchaoui. “It is a loss. (But I) totally understand … ”
Harchaoui was unable to provide the potential financial impact, but the timing of Wright State’s announcement allowed the hotel to avoid additional costs with regards to hiring additional staff and ordering more supplies.
“We have not even reached that point yet,” she said.
A meeting was planned for Monday, July 25, in which those details were expected to be worked out, Harchaoui said. As the announcement was made, Newman said the Greene County Debate Task Force, a team of Greene County leaders who met biweekly in support of the debate, was preparing a package of Greene County and Wright State promotional materials to be displayed at that meeting in an effort to build a supportive environment surrounding the event, as well as unity between each hotel and restaurant in the community.
“My major concern now is trying to fill our hotels during that time frame,” said Executive Director of the Greene County Convention and Visitors Bureau Kathleen Wright in an email to the newspaper. “They had to turn some group business away to accommodate the media coming in for the debate.”
Greene County residents may have also noticed Wright Brothers-style bowler hats making more appearances throughout communities and during events as the debate countdown began to display smaller numbers. It was a campaign inspired by the region’s history and started by the Greene County Debate Task Force.
The hats were intended to support Wright State and promote the debate. In previous interviews, it was said the bowler hats would have hopefully inspired media members to take an interest in the region’s history. The Fairborn Area Chamber of Commerce was beginning to wear them to recent ribbon cuttings and sported them during Fairborn’s Fourth of July parade. Greene County Debate Task Force members were also managing bowler hat-focused social media pages. Students who would have received a ticket to the debate would have received a bowler hat at the arena.
The City of Fairborn released a statement in reaction to the news, saying it is a disappointing, but an understood, decision.
“We understand the reasoning behind the decision of the Wright State Board of Trustees and Dr. (David) Hopkins (president of Wright State) citing the safety and security of the campus and community,” the statement said. “We comprehend the challenges they faced with hosting this debate as well as making the decision to withdraw. Fairborn fully supports Wright State University in its decision.”
City officials were not the only ones who felt that way.
“It was a disappointment,” Wright added. “However, we all thoroughly respect the decisions made by WSU, Dr. Hopkins and his board.”
But what about the silver lining? According to Newman and other individuals who work in similar positions, it was the opportunity to work together.
“The most positive thing to come out of this was the incredible work the Greene County team did to coalesce behind this event and Wright State University for the benefit of Greene County and the region,” Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Karen Wintrow said in an email interview. “We showed our creativity and teamwork and I know brought us even closer as we all work for the betterment of our communities and the county.”