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Trump rally draws biggest crowd in Freedom Hall history

Zach Vance • Oct 2, 2018 at 11:01 PM

President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Johnson City Monday night drew the largest crowd for a single-day event at Freedom Hall Civic Center that Director Lisa Chamness can remember.

And she has worked at Freedom Hall for more than 32 years.

Including the press, Chamness said 6,500 attendees were allowed into the civic center to see the sitting president, the first to speak at Freedom Hall since Gerald Ford did in 1976, but that’s not all.

She said another 1,000 people watched the president speak on large screens inside Freedom Hall’s auxiliary gym, and between 1,500 and 2,000 people stood outside and watched on large screens near Liberty Bell.

“It was standing room only. That was our capacity given to us by the fire marshal,” Chamness said about the auxiliary gym.

“I think it's very good to have a sitting president, regardless of whether it’s Democrat or Republican, (come to Freedom Hall) and were honored they would choose this area to do a rally.”

Although U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, said during the rally that 92,000 tickets had been requested for the event —which he said was a record for a Trump campaign — Chamness said she could not confirm whether that figure was accurate, since the tickets were handled by the White House campaign staff.

By 2 p.m. Monday, Chamness said crews were still working to clean up inside and outside arena, as well as dismantle all the equipment and stage.

“We actually contract with the Johnson City jail, and after an event, when everybody is gone as far as the public, they bring a crew of women up here and they clean everything from the balconies up. Then our staff will clean the floor level, backstage and all of that,” she said.

“They also sweep the parking lots. We’re able to do stuff probably at half the cost (then) if we had to go out and contract it.”

Chamness said she had six full-time employees work the event, while the Trump campaign brought in countless volunteers to assist. Knoxville-based M&M Productions was also contracted to decorate the auditorium in red, white and blue.

“(My) staff is helping take everything down and clean up. East Tenn Rent-Alls is picking up their tents and some of the bike racks we used for security. We borrowed some bike racks and things from other places as well. That all went through the White House campaign team,” Chamness said.

“Our staff put up rebar, caution tape, and we had our own tables and chairs, in addition to all the rental stuff. Our maintenance guys here also set up the arena and did those sorts of things. They were amazing, I tell you. They make my job a lot easier because I like to delegate, and I know that I can depend on them to get done what they need to get done.”

Because thousands of people lined up outside Freedom Hall, beginning as early as Sunday night, Chamness said the clean-up for this event took a little longer than usual.

“Inside is not that difficult with this event. It was very short, although (the crowd) was in the building for a number of hours. But outside, because we did have so many people spread out so far around the facility, it's taken longer than it typically would,” Chamness said.

“I had a few people stay and work ... Then we had other cleaning staff come in really, really early this morning to start again doing those things we couldn't do. A lot of stuff, people weren't allowed to bring in, like their lawn chair, their cooler or bottles. a lot of people had like metal water bottles that they couldn't bring in. So a lot of that was left outside.”

Secret Service agents arrived at Freedom Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 26, to begin securing the site, Chamness said, and the president’s advance team started preparations for the event the next day.

“The men and women I worked with the past few days were just top notch,” she said. 

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