Saturday, August 25, 2012
Saturday, August 18, 2012
As conventions go, Democrats and Republicans are in a class of their own. Probably nothing outside of the Olympics matches the spectacle, prestige and millions of dollars in federal funds.
A special report that begins today is not about that kind of convention. It’s about the more modest conventions that typically come to the Charlotte Convention Center.
You will learn what taxpayers invest to lure these conventions here. What our community gets in return. And what kinds of conventions we can expect in the future, with or without the DNC coming to town.
Why are we telling you this now, with the city’s biggest-ever convention on deck? We think it is valuable context.
The DNC is a great achievement for Charlotte. Still, we found little evidence that it opens a new era for mega-conventions in our city.
Yes, we got this in part because we were ready. But more critically, it was our election year to be swing state.
Putting politics aside, our convention business is a different story. And as you will read today, some of that story even surprised city leaders.
For example, you and I pay a 1 percent tax to support tourism each time we eat in a restaurant in Mecklenburg County. Most of the money raised contributes to the $30 million annual cost of the convention center.
What percentage of Charlotte’s hotel rooms would you guess that the convention center fills annually? No one we asked on City Council even came close. (Answer is in chart on 1A of Sunday's newspaper and here on charlotteobserver.com).
Observer city government reporter Steve Harrison didn’t know either a little over a year ago as he broke stories about the questionable management practices of Tim Newman, the former director of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. That reporting contributed to Newman’s demotion and eventual departure from the agency.
By then, Harrison was digging deeper into the CRVA’s financial reports. He found records of payments to organizations that held conventions here: The American Legion, the American Bus Association, the Shriners, the National Rifle Association. It puzzled him.
“When you get married, if you rent a facility, you pay them,” Harrison told me last week. “This was the opposite. (CRVA officials) were writing checks to get people to show up. I wondered, why is that? And is it worth it?”
Harrison then did something rare, if not unprecedented, in Charlotte. He did the math on the convention business.
What he found throws into question the whole philosophy of putting most of your tourism dollars into an exhibition hall.
“If you want to become a bigger tourist destination, the road doesn’t necessarily run through a convention center,” Harrison said.
On Tuesday, Part 2 will detail one reason why this philosophy went unquestioned for so long. For years, the CRVA turned out statistics that often made these conventions look more lucrative than they were.
The CRVA now has a new chief, Tom Murray. Following discussions with the Observer, Murray put into place new formulas that provide more realistic economic estimates.
Murray also told the Observer that he and his staff are committed to a standard of “ethics beyond reproach.”
The new economic estimates may not be as impressive. But at least we now know better where we stand.
Every year, restaurant and hotel taxes in Mecklenburg raise more than $50 million to help grow tourism.
If we want that investment to pay off, we first have to know what's really working.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
An app for Android phones is available under the same search terms in the Android store.
All other smartphone users can get a web-based version by directing their browsers at www.conventioncharlotte.com.
All of these apps are free.
We've loaded them with lots of useful information, including breaking news on the convention, restaurant reviews, delegate profiles, shopping directories and maps to help you find your way around the convention. Also check out dozens of photos depicting life in the Queen City.
You may find the app taking more time than usual to download. Know that we are reducing the app's size to help alleviate this issue and hope to have another version posted soon. If you have trouble downloading now, please use the web-based version, listed above, which contains all of the same content.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
That’s because long after the last balloon drop, you and I will still be here, living with the legacy of what the world witnessed over five days in September.
Charlotte is about to gain a global audience. The president, half of Congress and a multi-national army of 15,000 journalists will make it so.
That makes this a very big story locally. Dare I say the biggest news story in our city’s history? And yes, I was also here in 1989 for Hurricane Hugo.
For more than a year, The Charlotte Observer has planned how it will provide you comprehensive coverage of this historic moment – in print, online and over your phone.
We’ve built mobile apps, planned for nearly 50 pages of additional news coverage, designed a special convention section on CharlotteObserver.com., and forged partnerships with other major news organizations that will pay off with additional coverage for you.
In addition to reporting the news of the day, we’ll tell you what you personally need to know. If you want to be involved, you’ll learn how you can be. Rather steer clear? There will be advice for you, as well.
As politics goes, you may be more interested in what happens in Tampa the week before the DNC as the Republicans hold their convention. We’ll put you there, too.
The Observer is sending a team of journalists to the RNC, both to cover the political scene and to give you an idea of how that city is faring with its event. We will also bring you stories from that region’s premiere newspaper, The Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) under a content-sharing arrangement. Similarly, that paper’s readers will see Observer coverage during the DNC.
Watch for more on our plans in the days to come. But for now, I’ll touch on three current features:
-- Beginning Tuesday, we’ll anchor convention developments on page 2A of the printed paper. And, of course, you can expect at least one convention-related story on 1A daily as the city prepares.
-- On CharlotteObserver.com, check out our special web edition of DNC coverage. There you will find all we’ve reported on so far, including full-color maps of road closings, profiles of delegates, the roster of speakers and a list of groups signed up to protest. You’ll also see our 2012 Visitor’s Guide to the city for conventioneers.
In three weeks, every major media organization in the world will report on the convention in Charlotte. But you can count on the Observer to also report on what it means for Charlotte, now and in the years to come.
Reach Rick Thames at firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/rthames and www.facebook.com/rthames.obs. Phone: 704-358-5001.
Friday, August 3, 2012
For most people, the ideal home is more than simply a place to sleep. It’s a sanctuary.
Today, we bring you more help to keep it that way.
We’ve expanded and redesigned our Saturday Home & Garden section. Here, you will find special emphasis on how to make your address your favorite place to hang out.
Our advice will be practical. For instance, today’s cover story tells you how to transform that extra bedroom from a storage closet to real living space. Page 2 is home to DYI, featuring stories and a column for do-it-yourselfers.
Allen Norwood continues as our sage observer of real estate trends. And Nancy Brachey, Charlotte’s most trusted gardener, still dispenses her valued advice.
The section’s centerfold is a special package of great new content called Smarter Living. Every Saturday, you’ll find two full-color pages of tips and advice, drawn from the latest home improvement trends and innovations. And yes, we’ll also tell you where to buy the products featured.
Find Smarter Living online at www.charlotteobserver.com/smarterliving, or click on Home & Garden under the Living Here tab.
Smarter Living is made possible by Electrolux, the Observer’s newest community underwriter. The Observer’s newsroom independently oversees the content. The underwriter supports the costs.
Underwriters have enabled us to grow your newspaper by eight pages of themed content a week. Other underwritten packages are Sci-Tech (Monday), Young Achievers (Tuesday) and Arts Alive (Thursday).
Electrolux moved its North American headquarters to Charlotte’s University City area two years ago and employs 700 people locally.
Jack Truong, president and CEO of Electrolux Major Appliances North America, called the underwriting decision synergistic.
“We are a consumer-driven company that is constantly innovating based on the changing behaviors of the consumers,” he said. “Charlotte is where the vast majority of our home appliances are designed. The changes to the Living section reflect the current trend of consumers’ experience in their homes and their changing lifestyle.”
Here’s to a synergy that helps you design the sanctuary of your dreams.