The Sharon chosen To host president

The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, in Spanish Springs Town Square.

The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center will host President Donald Trump’s first visit to The Villages, the White House said Thursday — the first major detail to be released since the presidential appearance was first announced. Trump is coming to The Villages on Tuesday to talk about Medicare at an invitation-only event, described as an official presidential appearance, not a campaign rally. The White House is organizing the event and has not revealed details about who is invited or whether any residents have a chance at getting on the list. But several local officials and political leaders said Thursday that they received invitations from the White House. Even they don’t know yet if they’ve been officially cleared to attend, said John Temple, Sumter County Republican Executive Committee chairman. Temple passed along the information the White House needed about him in order to allow him into the event, but he hasn’t heard back on anything since then. Temple said he’s received about 80 phone calls, text messages and emails from people wanting to attend, and he’s been gathering their information to give to event organizers “if the opportunity presents itself.” 

“At this point in time, there aren’t tickets that I have to give out,” Temple said. “It’s not like our Lincoln dinner where we’re selling tickets to an event — this is something special and unique that’s going on.”

The choice of The Sharon as the venue makes clear that the number of people in attendance is intended to be limited in comparison to the massive crowds Trump attracts at his campaign rallies. The performing arts center in the Spanish Springs town square can seat just over a thousand people in its maximum-capacity configuration. 

Temple said it was good to finally know the venue for the event, though he was still curious to find out the full guest list and time.

The Sharon is a “fantastic” choice of venue, said Jerry Prince, The Villages Republican Club president. “It’s obviously the largest inside venue of The Villages, so that’s great to hear. It’s a great venue for everybody.”

Prince said he can’t keep up with the number of people trying to get in touch with him about getting tickets. He said he also is trying to add as many people as he can to a “wish list” of guests and get back to those who are trying to reach him as quickly as possible.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, who represents The Villages, Wildwood City Commissioner Joe Elliott and all of Sumter County commissioners were among those who received invites.

“I wouldn’t miss the opportunity whatsoever to hear him speak on medical issues and Medicare,” said Sumter District 5 Commissioner Steve Printz. “It’s an honor to be invited — an honor to attend.”

Prince, Temple and others in touch with the White House said they must produce information for all people they know who wish to attend. This way, once restrictions are placed and guest numbers can be determined, the White House already has what it needs for security measures related to the visit.

Some Trump supporters trying to get on the invite list have reached out to District Government offices, including the Customer Service Center, but the presidential visit is being arranged by the White House directly and is not a District or Villages event.

Others have made inquiries directly to the White House, which prefers written correspondence through its online portal at https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ rather than phone calls.

Little is known about what the president intends to say about Medicare, but the choice of The Villages as the place to say it makes sense because Sumter County has the highest-percentage of Medicare-eligible residents in the country.

“[The Villages is] a pretty good forum for the subject,” said Sumter County District 1 Commissioner Al Butler. 

No details have been released about any possible road closures or other changes to traffic patterns because of security needs or to handle the crowds of supporters and protesters presidential visits typically attract.

Fred Briggs, president of The Villages Homeowners Advocates, said the president’s visit is a major honor for residents of The Villages.

“It’s terrific anytime the president of the United States comes to talk to Villagers,” Briggs said. “It’s an event unequal in terms of political figures or celebrities. Whether you like the president or not it has everything to do with the fact he is the president of the United States and represents all Americans. As such, he deserves their respect.”

Staff writers Steve Straehley and David Corder contributed to this report. Managing Editor Curt Hills can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5287, or curt.hills@thevillagesmedia.com. Staff writer Alexandria Mansfield can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5401, or alexandria.mansfield@thevillagesmedia.com.