In recent weeks, the village of Cooperstown has been installing new sidewalks along Main Street. The work is ahead of schedule and should be completed in time for Obama’s visit. Hall of Fame is in the background.
The President will fly into Griffiss International Airport today. He will then make his way to Cooperstown where an anxious and excited village awaits him.
President Barack Obama is traveling to Cooperstown today to stress how tourism can lead to good-paying jobs, and he’s delivering his speech inside the baseball mecca.
That will make Obama the first sitting president to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and it’s a big deal for the small venue that celebrates its 75th anniversary this summer.
“It’s historical,” Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said Tuesday. “The fact that he would recognize that we are a cultural icon and use Cooperstown to deliver a speech on tourism is big.”
Obama announced the trip during his weekly radio address on Saturday. The event will be private but the president’s speech will be streamed live on the Internet.
“Believe it or not, tourism is an export,” Obama said. “If we make it easier for more foreign visitors to visit and spend money at America’s attractions and unparalleled national parks, that helps local businesses and grows the economy for everyone.”
Idelson said he found out last week, and learned that the idea originated from the White House.
“The fact that a sitting president has not visited here in our first 74-plus years, it was surprising to get the call, but exciting to realize that the chief executive would be delivering a speech on tourism from a place that thrives on it,”
“The last president to visit Cooperstown was Martin Van Buren, and that happened in 1839.”
Local reaction has been positive.
“It came out of left field. I think it’s fantastic,” said Gene Marra, proprietor of the fledgling Cooperstown Distillery. “It’s a great Americana story, an iconic village, as Norman Rockwell as it gets, the home of baseball, Abner Doubleday, the whole nine yards.”
Ironically, the village’s biggest tourist attraction — the Hall of Fame — will be closed. Marra noted that it’s a security issue.
“We’re only closed three days a year — Christmas, New Year’s and Thanksgiving,” Idelson said. “But I guess in our diamond anniversary year, one more day because the president is coming to visit is OK.”
The president’s visit will provide a kick-start to what’s expected to be one of Cooperstown’s best summers in years. This season’s highlights include Saturday’s Hall of Fame Classic at Doubleday Field, the Hall of Fame’s 75th anniversary in June, and induction ceremonies in July.
Still, like other sports museums, the Baseball Hall of Fame has experienced a steady decline over the past five years in the struggling economy. Attendance has gone from 289,818 in 2009 to 253,649 last year.
Given the expected influx of people who hope to get a glimpse of Obama as well as a huge police presence in the village, locals may have to put up with some inconveniences for the day. Hey, they are used to it. Hall of Fame inductions and game every year.
The Clark Sports Center also said it will be closed all day Thursday, saying the move is “in support of a special event hosted by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.” The sports center and the Hall of Fame are both properties of The Clark Foundation.
Obama will be in Cooperstown for approximately one hour, and will address a hand-selected audience of less than 200 people at the Hall of Fame. While it has not been confirmed, he said, there are indications that the visit will take place close to noon.
Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. said his deputies will be out in force, working cooperatively on security with the Secret Service, New York State Police and Cooperstown Village Police. He declined to discuss any specific plans for the day, citing the need for security.
The visit comes on the eve of the kickoff of the busy summer season for the Hall of Fame, the local museums and the village itself. Among former big-league stars slated to participate in the Hall of Fame Classic on Saturday are Steve Garvey, Pedro Martinez, Hideki Matsui and Jim Thome. The Classic will be preceded by the Cooperstown Game Day Parade at noon, followed by the Home Run Derby at 1 p.m.
Obama’s visit comes two month’s before this year’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, featuring six retired major leaguers.
The electees include: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas, and three expansion-era committee electees — Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre. They will be enshrined in a July 27 ceremony at the Clark Sports Center.