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Local News

Will Last Year's 'Black Tax' Affect This Year's CIAA?

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Courtesy Patrice Wright

The CIAA basketball tournament kicks off Tuesday at Time-Warner Cable Arena. This is the 11th year that this tournament for historically black colleges and universities is being held in Charlotte. Last year, controversy arose when the Ritz Carlton added a 15 percent "CIAA service charge" to the bills of customers ordering  food and drinks in its lobby. Many dubbed it the "black tax." The CIAA has moved on, but the charge has not been forgotten.

Matthew Coates, president of Elizabeth City State University’s booster club, is not letting what he also calls the “black tax,” keep him from coming to the tournament this year, but he says he knows of others who are having second thoughts. For him, he said the Ritz incident still stings.

“I just wouldn’t want to go there just based on what happened last year,” Coates said. “They just need to be sent the message that the African-American dollar means much more to us than them if they want to continue doing the practices they are doing. I wouldn’t want to support them.”

Coates predicted that CIAA fans staying at the Ritz or going there for food and drinks will take closer looks at their bills this year before paying them.

Ritz Carlton sales and marketing director Seamus Gallagher says CIAA fans won’t have to worry about being billed extra charges this year or subjected to a $125 food and beverage minimum they charged last year for some lobby tables.

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“We won’t be doing the service charge from last year,” Gallagher said. “We won’t have a minimum for tables, no charge for entrance. It will just be once the lobby is full, we’ll have a queue out front where we’ll keep everybody warm and hopefully get everybody in and we look forward to that.”

The service charge became known as the Ritz’s “black tax” after a local couple noticed it and posted their receipt on line. It went viral. Hotel officials said the charge was necessary because the size of the CIAA crowds puts a big demand on servers. Ritz officials have since apologized and CIAA Commissioner Jacqui McWilliams says she is confident that the Ritz service charge was an isolated incident. She says she is working closely with the hotel to make sure tournament fans feel welcome.

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Credit Courtesy of the CIAA

“The Ritz has been very open with us in how to move forward and come up with ways to work together,” McWilliams said. “People make mistakes, and we all do, but our job is to figure out how to get over the hump and make it better for everyone. The spirit of where we are is letting people know that our partnership with the Ritz and any other partner that has not been a great partner is changing.”

McWilliams says when fans check in to the block of 4,000 rooms at the 28 hotels they negotiated rates with this year, CIAA welcome signage will be prominently displayed in the lobbies and CIAA information desks will be set up for the first time.

Tom Murray, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority predicts all will go well this year.

“We don’t control the hotels and can’t dictate their behavior,” Murray said. “We work together as a community with the CIAA, private hotels and restaurants and we’re all of like minds. We will continue to try to eliminate as many of the bad occurrences as possible.”

Murray says the CIAA Tournament is the convention center’s largest annual event. He says last year it generated a record of about $56 million. It is set to be held in Charlotte through 2020.