University of Utah wants to spruce up before hosting presidential debate. It’ll cost taxpayers millions.

The University of Utah will host the final presidential debate of the 2024 cycle in October, a month before Election Day.

(Erin Schaff | The New York Times) Sen. Kamala Harris and Mike Pence participate in the vice-presidential debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. The U. will host the final 2024 presidential debate in October.

The University of Utah will host the final debate of the 2024 presidential election on Oct. 9. And the honor of hosting the high-profile event will cost Utah taxpayers millions of dollars.

On Thursday morning, the U. asked state lawmakers to include $6.5 million in funding for the Kingsbury Hall debate in next year’s budget. Most of the money, university officials say, will go toward security and infrastructure.

“We’ll have a lot of law enforcement, federal and state, that will be here. That’s the primary cost. There’s also a lot of infrastructure that goes into this, including the perimeter around the event, the IT infrastructure, and all the cybersecurity costs associated with an event like this to make sure that it goes on without interference from outside sources,” said Jason Perry, the university’s vice president for government relations. “These are just very expensive things that you have to acquire.”

In the request provided to lawmakers, the U. argues hosting a presidential debate will bring a “significant economic windfall and exposure” to the state.

“The opportunity to participate and to host a is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of the students of Utah,” an appropriation request reads. “Welcoming the world to the state and the campus of its flagship institution is a tremendous occasion to showcase the talent and political acumen of our citizenry, the unique beauty of Utah, and the University of Utah’s campus.”

(Julio Cortez | AP) Vice President Mike Pence during the vice presidential debate Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

The $6.5 million is a much higher pricetag than the $1.5 million the Legislature appropriated for the U. to host the vice presidential debate between Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Kamala Harris in 2020. Perry explained that the event was held during the height of the COVID pandemic, so the security requirements were lower and the U. also returned $500,000 to the state because of aggressive fundraising.

It’s possible that the debate won’t take place at all. In 2022, the Republican National Committee voted unanimously to withdraw their participation from the Commission on Presidential Debates, the non-partisan organization that has overseen every debate for president and vice president since 1988. That decision could pave the way for Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee, to skip any or all of the three debates this year ahead of the 2024 election. In 2020, the second presidential debate, slated to take place in Miami, was canceled after Trump refused to participate.

Perry says he’s aware that the debate might not happen as planned, but the preparations aren’t subject to political rhetoric.

“We’re going to operate as if it is happening because we are planning on it happening,” Perry told The Salt Lake Tribune. “If we get word that that’s not the case, we will adapt.”

He adds any contracts they sign for the debate will provide refunds in the event it’s canceled.

Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, needled Perry slightly on Thursday morning, asking if part of the funding would be used for “pest control.” During the 2020 Vice Presidential debate, a fly landed on Pence’s hair and stayed there for several minutes.

“We will be fumigating Kingsbury Hall,” Perry laughed. “There will be no fly incidents we can’t control this time.”

Legislators won’t decide whether to include the $6.5 million funding request until the budget proposal is released in late February.