Michelle Obama visits Miami's Freedom Tower

The elegant table centerpieces, featuring Blue Bom orchids from Thailand, are in place.

The Caprese salad is chilled and ready to serve.

A canopy has been set up to protect the 500 guests from the scorching South Florida noon-time sun.

But those trappings will add little to the Freedom Tower's natural grandeur.

When Michelle Obama visits the Biscayne Boulevard landmark Thursday for the Florida Campus Compact, she'll be walking into a building known to most South Floridians for its role in local history.

Howard Kleinberg, who began his career at the Freedom Tower working for The Miami Daily News, sees the first lady's visit as another laurel for the building.

"The Freedom Tower has crossed many bridges," said Kleinberg, who was the newspaper's final editor. "It was built when Miami was a Southern town, then it became a symbol for the Hispanic community, now it will host the wife of the country's first black president. The tower has now represented all ethnic groups in our community."

And Obama will be adding her own grain for posterity: She'll be the first first lady to walk into the tower -- even if it is through an undisclosed entrance and not its castle-like wooden front doors.

It's hard not to feel you're in a special place inside the ornate building with its vaulted ceiling and Roman columns, said Paul George, a local historian who gives tours of the 84-year-old building.

And that's what the nearly 500 guests expected to attend the $250-a-plate luncheon and awards gala -- it's sold out by the way -- will encounter.

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