Cover Story: Charlotte - convention city?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - With NASCAR's Hall of Fame opening this week, the final piece of the puzzle for turning the Queen City into a major convention destination finally fell into place.

We have the hotels, we've had the direct flights, but the biggest conventions look for cities with a cultural component.  It helped seal the deal for this week's National Rifle Association gathering.

They're calling the NRA the supertanker of conventions.  What does bringing it here say about Charlotte?  It says we've arrived.

The NRA was here 10 years ago but may not have come back with their 70,000 attendees were it not for the Hall of Fame.  Now with the Hall. the city's able to attract events - major events - it couldn't get before.

Charlotte wasn't just celebrating the opening of the Hall of Fame this week, but where the Hall would take the city.

"It was a little extra pull. A little extra incentive I guess I would say."  Randall Shelton and his friend had always planned to attend the NRA Convention.. but when they heard the Hall of Fame was open.. it sealed the deal for the trip to Charlotte.

"I think it'll be definitely be an asset to the community," he said.

That's what the city's counting on.  When conventions like the NRA choose a city they want more than meeting space and hotel rooms.

They want something to do.

"It's huge for us now because it's that one destination asset that's uniquely ours," said Tim Newman with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

But it's not just an attraction.  It's a meeting space as well.  With the Hall the city attached a 2,500 seat ballroom, which is the largest in the southeast.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority which promotes the city and runs the Convention Center and Hall of Fame says it's led to a host of conventions - lined up the next four years in Charlotte - some of which never would have considered the Queen City before.

Still out there.. attracting a political convention.

"Certainly the infrastructure's here to support it. We know that based on our read of the RFP."  The CRVA's Tim Newman confirmed the city will submit an RFP (a request for proposal) next week to bring the Democratic National Convention to Charlotte in 2012.

We have an arena that can host it.  Hotel space (30-thousand rooms in the metro area) to accommodate the delegates and media.  And direct flights to anywhere in the country.

Not to mention a Democratic governor.  A new Democratic mayor.  And the fact that North Carolina went blue in '08 the first time in a generation.

"The election for president will be won in the south," says state senator Malcolm Graham.  "Who can win Florida? Who can win North Carolina? Who can win Virginia as well as Tennessee? I think those are crucial areas for the Democratic party."

And Democrat Malcolm Graham believes having a Democratic convention here will help them plant a flag here.

For Tim Newman.. he says bring it on.  "It's not blue. It's not red. It's green. If we can accommodate folks we would love to have them."

Charlotte submits its bid next week.  Democratic National Convention will whittle down the list of potential sites this summer.. visit sites and make a decision by the end of this year.

How many are in contention to host the DNC in 2012?

There are about 20-to-25 cities big enough.  We're hearing about 8-to-10 will actually submit proposals.

There hasn't been a political convention in the south since 1988.  The Republicans have already announced they're going to be in Tampa in 2010.  Where will the Democrats go?

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