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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

We're debating how to use tourist money, but is Charlotte really a tourist town?

A debate over how to use Charlotte’s tourism-tax money recently caused a bit of a fuss. But WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his "On My Mind" commentary, says it’s part of a broader discussion.

Some Charlotte city officials recently floated an idea to fiddle with the city’s tourism tax. Those officials quickly got their hands slapped. But they opened up a worthwhile discussion that’s about a lot more than money.

City Council members LaWana Mayfield, Renee Johnson and Victoria Watlington mentioned in a committee meeting that Charlotte might consider taking after Asheville, which uses some of its tourism money to pay for things that are tangential to tourism, like greenways. The council members discussed using some of the money for items like transportation and public safety — not exactly touristy, but you could make a case that they could improve a visitor’s experience.

This did not go over well with the city’s hotel and restaurant business. Hotelier Vinay Patel, chairman of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said that if the city moved forward, he’d try to get the tourism taxes repealed. Lynn Minges of the state’s Restaurant and Lodging Association suggested there would be a lawsuit. And so Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles wrote a letter basically saying “hold on, this was just a discussion, nothing’s going to happen.”

There’s a big chunk of money at stake. The local tax on hotel rooms, restaurant bills and bar tabs raises about $130 million a year. Visitors mostly pay the hotel room tax, but we, people who live here, all pay a bit every time we eat out or grab a drink. Charlotte has used that money for upgrades to the Convention Center, Bank of America Stadium and Spectrum Center. Conventions, sports and concerts — it’s obvious that those things fill hotel rooms and restaurant seats. It’s certainly not as clear whether a better light rail system, for example, would make a difference on whether a visitor came here or not.

But I think there’s a bigger question here: What kind of tourist town is Charlotte in the first place?

I could see, if you’re Asheville, spending tourist money on greenways and such, because natural beauty is part of the reason people vacation in Asheville. Maybe it’s the word vacation that’s tripping me up. Because Charlotte is not the kind of place you take a week off just to see.

We are not the hot summer fling. We’re the one you settle down and marry.

That’s a compliment, by the way. I’ve lived here 35 years and have long ago lost the urge to move anywhere else. We’ve got gorgeous trees, beautiful neighborhoods, dazzling museums, major-league sports, and manageable traffic, as long as you don’t drive in rush hour. It is an exceedingly pleasant place to live. But I don’t think we will ever be a tourist destination. And I don’t think we necessarily should be. Just ask folks in Nashville about the packs of wild bachelorettes who haunt Lower Broadway on their party bikes. (Actually, I’m sure our hospitality folks would be fine with that.)

The people who built modern Charlotte designed it as a place where people coming here from all over the country — mostly bankers, at least at the beginning — would be happy to live, not visit. We attract loads of conventions because we’re business-friendly. We’ve grown enough to draw a slate of big concerts. It could always be better. But to make it much different would mean changing what Charlotte is.

Maybe it is worth exploring whether that tourism tax is doing its job. But I hope that’s just the start of a bigger discussion about what we want Charlotte’s identity to be.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.