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NC hospitality association warns Charlotte not to divert tourism tax money

A woman pushing a cart through a hotel corridor.
Elvis Menayese
A woman pushing a cart through a hotel corridor.

The head of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association sent a letter to the Charlotte City Council Monday urging them not to consider using taxes dedicated for tourism to pay for things the group doesn’t consider tourism-specific.

The taxes on hotel rooms, as well as prepared food and beverages from restaurants and bars, are limited by state law to tourism-related purposes, like the Convention Center and new stadiums and arenas. But the city of Asheville got buy-in from its tourism leaders to use some of its tourism tax revenue for projects like greenways — which they say will help visitors and locals.

At a City Council committee meeting last week, three council members — LaWana Mayfield, Renee Johnson and Victoria Watlington — said Charlotte should follow Asheville’s lead and explore using some money from tourism taxes to pay for things like transportation or public safety.

That prompted an angry response from hotelier Vinay Patel, chairman of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, who said he would lobby the legislature to repeal the tax if it were used for non-tourism purposes.

Lynne Minges, of the state’s Restaurant and Lodging Association, warned council members Monday not to go down that path, suggesting the city could be sued.

She wrote: “Although there have been public statements this language is up to interpretation, if local elected officials decide to use it to fund affordable housing and other non-tourism related expenditures, that interpretation will be done by the courts.”

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said in a letter Tuesday that the city does not intend to change how it spends money from tourism taxes. Lyles wrote that the conversation was just that — a conversation. She added that it does not indicate any change in city policy.

Charlotte’s tourism taxes are mostly used for the Convention Center, as well as stadium and arena upgrades for the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.