CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) basketball tournament is headed to Baltimore, and has left Charlotte city leaders wondering what could take its place.
The CIAA was pumping about $50 million into the local economy on an annual basis.
“Very concerned,” At-large Charlotte city councilmember James Mitchell said. “I think that was a tournament we never should have lost. It was a 15-year marriage.”
Mitchell and others now wonder what the plan is to bring the CIAA back. The popular basketball tournament has been in Charlotte for 15 years.
During that time, it generated about $600 million for North Carolina. Tournament leaders decided that Baltimore had a better offer and CIAA signed a three-year deal with the city.
“Baltimore is a great city, but it’s not Charlotte,” Charlotte city councilman Larken Egleston said. “I think they’ll want to be back and a lot of us would want them to be back.”
City leaders wonder if there is a plan to get them back and if there is a plan to find other events that could fill that financial hole.
“I’m not sure you can find an event in February that comes to your town, fill up hotel rooms and drop $50 million on an annual basis," Charlotte city councilmember Malcolm Graham said. "We will work with convention and visitors bureau to do what they do best - which is to tell the world about Charlotte.”
Graham says one of the reasons he ran for office was to get the CIAA back to Charlotte.
“This community is becoming more and more urban,” Graham said. “We have to be able to provide a wide variety of entertainment for those who want it - whether it’s PGA golf, CIAA basketball or MLS soccer.”
The city councilmember believes Charlotte leaders knew exactly what it would take to keep the CIAA in town, but failed to meet expectations. In his mind - he says it’s like knowing the answers to the final exam and you still fail the test. Graham lays out some of the issues.
“Find a way to work with promoters and the CIAA so that there is no brand infringement which was a major concern," Graham said. "We knew what the issues were in the community - we just failed to work with them to solve them.”
The politician wonders why Charlotte didn’t do what it always does and form a task force to figure this out.
Mitchell told us officials responsible for bringing and retaining Charlotte events should have to answer the question of “what’s next?”
“I think we need to reach out to Tom Murray,” Mitchell said. “And see how do they fill in that gap of a $50-million economic stimulus for our great city.”
Tom Murray is the CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. We asked about next steps. Murray didn’t answer what events will make up the financial impact of CIAA but he did offer this statement.
“The CIAA tournament is a unique event and one that we have been honored to host for 15 consecutive years. The mission of the CRVA is to grow Charlotte’s market share of the visitor economy, and hosting strategic events like the CIAA Tournament helps us do just that. When the opportunity comes, we will collaborate with the City, County, venues and hotel partners to put our best bid forward to compete for this important piece of business. We recognize how special this event is and how much it means to our community.”
CIAA leaving North Carolina has even gotten Congresswoman Alma Adams’ attention. She thinks Charlotte will bounce back.
“I think we have enough creative minds here in Charlotte, and leadership here in our community that we are putting that front and center to make sure that we fill that gap,” Adams said.
Graham believes the only way to fill that gap is to do it with the CIAA.
“We got three years to get our hands around these issues, and find a way to work in partnership with the CIAA to solve problems that we know were top of mind and why they left in the first place,” Graham said.
One event that is coming next year instead of the CIAA is another basketball tournament. The Big South Tournament is scheduled to come to Charlotte for three years in early March. There’s no word on the economic impact the Big South will have on the Charlotte area.