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Charlotte Area News

Charlotte Observer: Will DNC's Security Shut Down Uptown Businesses?

Some of Charlotte's biggest companies are considering telling employees to steer clear of uptown during the Democratic National Convention this September. Information for residents, business leaders City leaders are reaching out to residents and businesses with periodic updates on the DNC. The latest memo, issued in March, details security considerations and encourages businesses to begin crafting a plan for employees, suppliers and vendors. To sign up for alerts or read the city's latest convention memo, visit DNCinfo.charlottenc.gov. Now, the restaurants and retailers that rely on them are trying to determine whether the influx of delegates and visitors that week might be enough to replace their regulars - or whether security measures and street closures might halt business altogether. "Before we started hearing about the restrictions, we thought we would have a whole lot of traffic," said Tonja McFadden, manager of the women's clothing boutique Ivy & Leo in Founders Hall. She hopes the store stays open but is waiting for details on security and other issues. "Now it seems like we won't have a lot." City leaders are already holding meetings with people who live uptown, plus major employers, property management firms and companies in the hospitality industry, to provide updates and answer questions, said Michael Smith of Charlotte Center City Partners. The group is working with police, transportation leaders and city officials on the effort. A memo from the city last month outlined some security guidelines - workers won't need special credentials to enter uptown businesses, for instance, but some vehicles might be subject to security clearance. The joint effort will help city leaders manage the convention's impact as well as "share key messaging, like the fact that Charlotte is going to be open for business," Smith said. Waiting for more information Several uptown businesses told the Observer they are waiting for more information about street closings and other changes before deciding how to advise employees and whether to remain open during the convention, scheduled for Sept. 4-6. The Democratic National Convention Committee has said plans are in place to alleviate some traffic concerns, such as shuttling the thousands of delegates into center city by bus. More information is likely to roll out by early summer, convention officials have said. "Our most sincere hope is that people stay open convention week, that uptown is as bustling convention week as it is on your average day here in Charlotte," host committee spokeswoman Suzi Emmerling said. "We're proud of the thriving uptown that Charlotte has. That's been our message: There is no reason for people to shut down." At Wells Fargo & Co., the San Francisco bank that bought Wachovia in 2008 and still employs about 20,000 in the Charlotte area, a team is gathering information about how the convention will affect operations uptown and at the bank's University City-area campus, spokesman Josh Dunn said. That group is waiting to hear which parking decks will be available for the bank's 7,500 or so employees who work uptown. In the meantime, Wells is encouraging workers based in other cities to avoid traveling to Charlotte for meetings during the convention. It is also considering alternatives for local workers, including the option to work from home, Dunn said. "We're still just trying to get our arms around it and understand the implications for our team members, and plan accordingly," Dunn said. "The bottom line is, essentially, we hope to offer business as usual for customers." Charlotte-based Bank of America Corp., which employs about 15,000 in the area, is finalizing its plans and will communicate them to employees in the coming months, a bank spokesman said. Duke Energy Corp. also plans to deliver more information to workers as the convention approaches, spokesman Tom Williams said. The company, which employs 3,500 of its 18,000 total workers in three buildings uptown, is "considering a number of different options," he said. Among them: advising employees to work from home - many already have the equipment and technology to do so - or moving some to other locations, such as a Duke training facility in Kings Mountain, Williams said. "There are lots of properties we could consider using in some fashion," he said. Most firms are waiting to make a final decision until more detailed information becomes available this summer, Charlotte Chamber spokeswoman Natalie Dick said, adding that "everyone seems to still be in a holding pattern." The chamber is doing what it can to communicate information to members, she said. And employees at the organization, which plans to host hundreds of foreign dignitaries during the convention, are making plans to find a way to the office on Labor Day and throughout the week, Dick said. "At this point, we do not know how we will be impacted, as far as parking and actually getting to work," she said. "We basically just know we'll have to figure out a way to get here." Some small businesses are counting on visitors to replace any regulars working off-site during the convention. Event officials have said more than 5,500 delegates will come to town, nearly 25 percent more than Denver saw in 2008. The convention will also likely draw thousands of others, including journalists and tourists. In Denver, a report found that the event generated more than $266 million for the region - up from preconvention projections of $160 million. The direct economic impact was $133.5 million. "We broke all records at our downtown restaurants," one business reported in the study. Uncertain about security At Matt's Chicago Dog, a popular lunch spot at the base of one of Wells Fargo's uptown towers, employees from the bank make up a big chunk of its regular business, manager Jill Sauer said. Based on what she's hearing from those customers, she's up in the air about what to expect during the convention. "First, we were excited," she said. "We were going to be open 24 hours. We even thought about trying to get President Obama here, because he's from Chicago." Now, while Sauer plans to keep the sandwich shop open, she's afraid to commit to a 24-hour plan, given the uncertainty surrounding security considerations and uptown workers' schedules, she said. Others are more optimistic. "We're looking forward to it, and we hope we have the opportunity to sell Charlotte a little bit more," said Susan Young, who plans to keep her uptown gift boutique, Blis, open during the convention. "We'll be ready." Young, who owns the shop in Founders Hall with her daughter, Whitney Ferguson, plans to offer special products to celebrate the event, including Charlotte-themed mementos and other gifts. Success that week isn't a guarantee - Young isn't yet sure how security will affect the shop or whether she will be able to park in her usual uptown deck, and she doesn't expect much traffic from the bank and law firm workers who usually frequent the store. Still, she hopes plenty of visitors find their way into Founders Hall. "It won't be our regulars; it's going to be tourists," she said. "That's what we're betting on." Staff writer Tim Funk contributed.