Cover Story: Big week - big dividends

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It was billed as Charlotte's biggest week ever.  Now that the three high-profile events are in the rear view mirror, how did it live up to the hype?

There wasn't an area of the city that wasn't affected by the NRA convention, NASCAR Hall of Fame opening and Ultra-Swim event last week.

What's the verdict? Was this a successful precursor of things to come or a big bust?

As one promoter told us last week was "game on" for Charlotte.  And what we saw proves Charlotte can handle large groups like this.

But it's more than dollars and cents and image it could pay off for taxpayer supported services as well.

For businessmen like Larry Hyatt of Hyatt's Gun Shop last week was a windfall that exceeded their wildest imagination.

"We'd love for the NRA to come here every six months," he said.

The official count of last week's NRA Convention:  72,178.  The largest convention in the city's history.

And on the convention floor tens of thousands of gun enthusiasts - with money to spend and prohibited by law from buying off the floor.  That left Hyatts in the crosshairs.

"They showed them every conceivable type of firearm they could ever want to see," Hyatt said.  "And they said you had to go to your local dealer to buy it. So we helped them out."

Hyatt ran a shuttle service from Hyatt's Wilkinson Boulevard store on the west side - back and forth to downtown and the Convention Center.  Their parking lot stayed packed.

"Busiest weekend in our store in 51 years in business," he said.

And they weren't alone.  The LYNX light rail line was roaring as well, drawing 15,215 more riders Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 46-percent higher than an average weekend in April.

With the NRA and big names like Palin and others headlining, the NASCAR Hall of Fame opening, and the UltraSwim event all going on last week Charlotte's name was splashed all over the world.  A fact that will pay dividends down the road according to travel and tourism experts.

These guys came in from Boston for another event in town going on over the weekend and plan to stay a few extra days.

"We love it here. It's terrific. We're really glad we came," said Jim Martelli.

Immediately, Charlotte's big week filled up city coffers.  The NRA convention was expected to pump more than $20 million into the local economy.  There wasn't an hotel room available in Charlotte.  (And you're talking more than 30-thousand hotel rooms in the metro area.)

"We have a lot more going for us," said Mohammad Jenatian, president of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Alliance.  "We're going to continue building up what we have. Travel and tourism is becoming a major part of this community and a great part of it."

Jenatian sees a spillover from the Hall of Fame that will help other Charlotte attractions like the new Bechtler Museum for example.  When people come to town.. they'll have more reasons to stay longer.

"Beautiful downtown. It's terrific. Very very nice. Very impressed."

Final sales tax receipts from the week won't be in for a few months.  But there's no doubt city coffers will reap a windfall.  And with city leaders considering helping the county subsidize some county-operated services like parks and libraries the extra revenue will come in handy.

The NRA rotates cities and usually returns every 10 years but because of the great experience they had here there's talk of bringing the convention back earlier-- maybe in six years.

Copyright 2010 WBTV. All rights reserved.