BizWorthy: Charlotte Businesses Worried About RNC Uncertainty

May 28, 2020

President Trump’s threat to move the Republican National Convention from Charlotte this August is stirring uncertainty among local businesses. Many are counting on the financial windfall that comes with having the tens of thousands of delegates and other visitors in town that week. 

John Ellison owns two businesses in South End: the restaurant The Gin Mill and the music venue Amos’ Southend.

“If it could occur, it would definitely help pull us out of all of the money that’s been lost during the pandemic,” Ellison said.  “It was going to kind of like set us back straight.”

For more we now turn to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: Tony, are you hearing other businesses say the same thing -- that the RNC is their chance to recoup some of the losses over the past two months?

Tony Mecia: Marshall, I do think there are a lot of businesses in town that are looking forward to having a lot of people and getting back to normal. Whether it's restaurants and hotels, you know, the hospitality industry is really the sector that's been hit just about the hardest of anybody locally. I mean, there are a lot of other businesses, too, I think, that are looking forward to it. Maybe they aren't as visible. Caterers, the companies that rent tables and tents. I mean, it could really spill out to a whole bunch of different places.

Now, it is only a week-long event. So to say that in a week you're going to recoup two months worth of lost revenue is probably a bit of an exaggeration. But I mean, certainly a lot of these business owners are looking forward to anything they can get right now in terms of money coming in.

Terry: If businesses have already invested money with the expectation that the RNC is coming, but then it doesn't, do they have any recourse?

Mecia: Well, you know, a lot of that's going to depend. They might you know, it sort of depends on how their contracts are structured. And you're seeing a lot of businesses look at that right now and, you know, looking into the fine details of their contracts to see, OK, well, what is reimbursable? What can they get some money back on? But I think, you know, sort of like it has been during the pandemic, you're going to have several people, you're going to have a lot of businesses holding the bag in which somebody out some money that they expected to have come in. So it could create some problems on that.

Terry: We're now at nearly one week into Phase 2 of North Carolina's reopening. Tony, have you gotten your hair cut yet?

Tony Mecia wasn't the only one who got a haircut over the weekend. Exhibit A: Gov. Roy Cooper last week (left) vs. Tuesday (right).
Credit NC Department of Public Safety

Mecia: Marshall, I did get my hair cut this weekend. I wanted to go to my barber, but they were closed on the weekend, so I had to go to a Great Clips. It was getting to be close to an emergency situation.

Terry: So what are you hearing from businesses about how Phase 2 has gone so far?

Mecia: You know, a lot of them are pleased to be open again. I mean, not all of them have reopened. A lot of them are taking sort of a gradual approach in which they're getting the lay of the land a little bit and seeing how other businesses are doing it. But those that are open seem to be you know, there are people coming in. I went out to check out some of the different breweries and some of the restaurants this weekend and there were people there. I mean, the places weren't empty -- and they weren't completely packed either.

So I think the restaurants, in particular, are happy to have some of those those patrons coming back in. They're not making maybe the money that they were before. But it's, I think, helpful in trying to get back to maybe where they were.

Terry: Now, have they said if people are maintaining social distance or are these businesses having to enforce it?

Mecia: Well, you know, the people in charge of enforcement, which are the police, they haven't come out and said there have been any huge problems. I haven't encountered any. I haven't seen any in people that I've talked to. Doesn't seem like it's that big of a problem. Certainly there are probably some instances where people are closer than other people might feel comfortable. But again, I haven't heard of any widespread problems as it relates to, you know, huge crowds, groups of people teaming together very closely.

Terry: Most gatherings of more than 25 people are still prohibited right now in North Carolina. You recently spoke to event planners in Charlotte who are rethinking how to hold large events. What are they saying?

Mecia: They're looking ahead. You know, nobody really knows what the future is going to be like in a couple of months. But these events can take weeks, if not months to plan. And so you have event planners who are are looking at it. And I think the events that they're looking at for the fall are going to be a lot different than what we're accustomed to. That instead of having, for example, a large charity dinner in a hotel ballroom with a buffet, you might instead have smaller groups of, say, 25 people, 25 big donors in somebody's house for a dinner. Or they're looking at can you move some events outside where people feel a little bit more comfortable, where it might be a little bit safer?

You're also looking at event planners that are doing different layouts in terms of where the tables are, how many the tables can accommodate. So instead of a round table that accommodates 10 or 12 people, maybe it only accommodates four people. So really, the events that we've become accustomed to over the years, I don't think anybody sees those returning anytime soon.

Terry: Last week, the owner of Charlotte's Manor Theatre said it's closing the movie theater on Providence Road after more than 70 years. What are you hearing about what will go in its place?

Mecia: Well, there's nothing confirmed yet. If you do look at the property records, the owner of the Manor Theatre right by the Panera there is Eastern Federal Corporation, which owns actually a number of adjacent parcels. Owns, essentially, that whole block on Providence Road between the Starbucks and the next corner -- it's about three or four acres, so it's a pretty big piece of land potentially that could be developed for something else.

Now, a lot of people instantly think, is it going to be a huge apartment building? Well, you know, it's right next to Eastover. You couldn't probably do anything too massive. You're going to need the support of the neighborhood back there. So it's hard to say exactly what's going to go there. I think a lot of the thinking has been, you know, you could do some sort of a mixed-use development, maybe a housing component and some retail. But again, you know, the owner of that property really hasn't said.

Terry: All right, Tony, thanks.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.

Terry: That's Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Leger Business Newsletter.

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