Final preparations under way for Romney rally

Final preparations are being made at the Square @ Union Center in anticipation of tonight’s political rally featuring GOP presidential ticket candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, plus a host of high-profile politicians, musicians and professional athletes.

The Butler County Bomb Squad is conducting a sweep of the Square with bomb-sniffing dogs.

Today’s event may not be the biggest the county has seen, but it is particularly challenging because of how many high-profile politicians will be attending, an official with the bomb squad said.

Musicians were practicing at about 1 p.m. today. Kid Rock is expected to perform at the event.

Red, white and blue T-shirts were being placed in bleachers set up for the event.

Organizers were also putting together temporary, portable heaters.

An electronic sign on Union Centre Boulevard instructed drivers to “find another route.”

The Romney campaign chose to host its “mega rally” in Butler County because it “is the most Republican area of Ohio,” according to West Chester Twp. trustee Catherine Stoker.

“Romney needs to win Ohio in order to win the presidency,” she said. “If Republicans want to win Ohio, this is a good spot to do it.”

Stoker said a 2004 campaign stop by George W. Bush attracted more than 50,000 people to Voice of America park. The township’s proximity to major interstates including Interstate 275 and 75 helps West Chester Twp. become a prime campaign stop.

“I am always pleased to see West Chester in the spotlight; it gives more people and companies a view of West Chester,” Stoker said.

Those attending the Romney/Ryan rally should expect to go through airport-like security and should bring as few personal items as possible, according to the campaign. No bags, sharp objects, umbrellas, liquids, or signs will be allowed in the venue. Cameras are permitted.

Sgt. Matthew Tombragel with the West Chester Police Department said people should arrive early and expect long traffic delays.

The Square @ Union Centre has been closed since early Wednesday, and several road closures have been in place since Wednesday in the surrounding area.

Centre Pointe Drive is closed just west of the AK Steel/West Chester Towne Square entrance and just east of the MidPointe Library West Chester entrance. West Chester Towne Centre Drive is closed south of Centre Loop, including the roundabout, according to the township.

Businesses in the Union Centre area will be open. Those attending the event are asked to only park in lots that are marked as event parking, township officials said.

Heavy traffic and potentially long delays are expected near the I-75 Interchange at Union Centre Boulevard and the Square @ Union Centre.

Sgt. Tombragel said “it’s all hands on deck” for local police officers assisting in event security.

“Our No. 1 goal is to take care of the citizens of West Chester; it’s a balancing act,” Tombragel said. “If someone calls West Chester police on Friday we’re going to be there; we won’t let the campaign stop interfere with our operations.”

In anticipation of the rally, the MidPointe Library at 9363 Centre Pointe Drive closed at noon today. The library will re-open at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Some area restaurants said they are preparing for the rally but don’t expect it to increase business.

“I think it is a positive that he is going to be here,” said Paul Harrison, manager of Aladdin’s Eatery at 9344 Union Centre Blvd. “It’s been my experience in the past that usually a rally or parade or something like that doesn’t benefit the business because people are trying to get back to their cars so they can get out of the heavy traffic.”

Tom Williams, manager at Bob Evans, 9223 Schulze Drive, said the restaurant prepared heavily for a rally earlier this year, but turnout was not what he expected. He will bring in two additional employees.

Kevin Molony, owner of Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers, which opened in September just off Union Centre Boulevard at 9238 Floer Drive, said he was excited to hear of the rally and its extensive list of special guests.

“I’m proud to be part of a community that would be chosen for something like that,” Molony said. “I think it’s something any community should host if they can. Certainly there may be a little bit of a strain on the traffic, but why not West Chester?”

Still, Molony said he wasn’t planning to add to the typical Friday night staff of 35 employees.

“Friday nights are full anyway,” he said.

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Staff writers Hannah Poturalski, Eric Schwartzberg and Skip Weaver contributed to this report.