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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On Wednesday, the Time Warner Arena in uptown Charlotte still looked like a construction site, with steel decks stacked on floors and colorful test patterns scrolling on video screens.

But by Aug. 31 it will be ready for a public preview, with the Democratic National Convention opening four days later, convention officials say. They re spending $7 million to prepare the arena, which will have 15,000 seats. The construction budget for turning Bank of America stadium into a site for President Obama s acceptance speech is $5 million, said Chief Operating Officer Theo LeCompte.

Next week s open house at the arena will launch convention activities and thank Charlotteans for their support, said Chief Executive Officer Steve Kerrigan.

What looks like a construction zone today is going to be transformed into an amazing world-class convention venue, Kerrigan told media gathered for a tour. This hall behind us is going to be electric.

Crews have been at the arena for more than a month, with much of the work focused on laying the phone and internet connections needed for a wired event drawing worldwide attention. We re just about done with getting the nuts and bolts in place, LeCompte said.

The media visitors, wearing hard hats at times, saw a framed-in camera stand and crews preparing to build the podium, as well as suites being prepared for news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox and BET. A Bobcats practice court has been transformed into a room that will provide Internet access and writing space for other journalists.

Kerrigan repeatedly sounded the theme of the most open and accessible convention in history.

This open house is going to provide the public here in Charlotte, who have been teriffic hosts for us, an opportunity to be the first ones to witness what all of us have been working on for well over a year and a half, Kerrigan said, referring to convention planning.

People can sign up for the Aug. 31 open house at www.demconvention.com, the same site where they ve been signing up for community credentials to see the president s Sept. 6 acceptance speech. Aug. 29 is the deadline to register for that event. The organizers offered no specifics Wednesday about what many want to know: When will applicants find out whether they ll get in?

After registration closes, credentials will be distributed on a rolling basis through Obama campaign offices throughout the country, Kerrigan said.

Organizers hope all the public events the open house, a Sept. 3 street festival in uptown Charlotte and the president s speech help tip North Carolina for Obama in the election.

You can t just drop into a swing state and have a convention and hope you re going to win, Kerrigan said. That s how you move the needle in politics, is by engaging people.

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