Democratic National Convention

Where will Obama spend the night in Charlotte?

Rumors abound on whether president will sleep over during DNC, and where

By Mark Price
msprice@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotteans have been told for months about what an honor it is to host the Democratic National Convention, but we’ve not heard a peep about the one tidbit we’re dying to know: Will President Barack Obama spend the night? And if so, where?

The commander-in-chief has never spent a night in the Queen City, although news reports show he stayed in a hotel during a visit to Greensboro in October 2011. He also stayed at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn during a family vacation in April 2010.

Obama is scheduled to be here Sept. 6 to accept his party’s nomination at Bank of America Stadium, and, while no one has actually said he’ll stay overnight, we’d like to believe we’re an irresistible bunch.

Rumors and speculation have been coming in from a lot of “experts” who heard something from someone else who is married to someone who may know something.

Only the Secret Service knows for sure, but they’re not talking.

Here’s what we’re hearing.

Guess No. 1.

A center city hotel. The Ritz-Carlton is a possibility, having been put under contract for convention VIPs, which can mean almost anything. Same is true of the Westin, which is a DNC headquarters hotel, along with the Hilton Charlotte Center City. Plus, the Westin is in sight of Bank of America Stadium.

However, our experts say one thing is for sure: Obama will not stay at any of the hotels booked with delegates, or any hotel where a lot of DNC business is being carried out. That’s because the heightened security associated with a presidential sleepover would overwhelm delegate meetings and convention-related activities.

During the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Obama stayed multiple nights at the Westin Denver Downtown, but he was a lowly senator back then.

Experts say it will all boil down to “the environment.”

“There’s not a hotel that cannot be made secure and there’s not a private home that cannot be made secure,” said a top-flight security consultant (ex Secret Service agent) who asked not to be identified. “But the Secret Service would lean to the one that doesn’t draw attention, the one that is non-obtrusive, and the one that doesn’t inconvenience a lot of folks, as far as people associated with the convention.”

Translation: The possibilities in Charlotte are many and include hotels and private homes.

Guess No. 2

Ballantyne, of course. And why not? There’s not one but two Presidential Suites at The Ballantyne Luxury Collection Hotel, each about 1,200 square feet – bigger than the average townhome in Charlotte. The bathtubs are marble, and dining tables seat 12, too. And there’s a helipad in the vicinity.

It just so happens that both suites are booked the night of the President’s visit.

We know, because we called and asked about renting them. The price? Somewhere in the range of $2,000 each per night, revealed a nice woman taking reservations. “The entire property is booked that night,” she added.

Sounds suspicious to us.

Guess No. 3

Eastover-Myers Park. Stop laughing. We’ve heard wild tales of Secret Service agents masquerading as AT&T company reps, going door-to-door in Eastover as they checked out the area for spies or terrorists or whatever.

“Until you physically came to the door, they would not leave you alone,” said one exasperated Eastover resident. “They were relentless.”

A lot of corporate execs live in the Eastover-Myers Park area, it’s near uptown, and the houses are large. Plus, 100 percent of the people we polled think Obama will stay at a private home, since most of the hotels in the area are full of delegates.

Our experts say if Obama does stay at a private home, it will be with someone “well connected” with whom the president feels “politically comfortable.”

Myers Park resident Catherine Connor, “a loyal Democrat,” said Obama is not expected to stay at her house, but he’s welcome. It would definitely make an impression on her many Republican neighbors, she said.

“We have a spare room,” Connor said. “We could put him on the third floor and Secret Service on the second floor.”

This week, rumors also began circulating that Obama would stay at the home of a prominent businessman in south Charlotte’s Seven Eagles community, near Quail Hollow Country Club. Homes there range from 5,000 to 10,000-square foot range, so Connor might have some competition.

Guess No. 4

Fort Mill, S.C. In April 1994, then-President Bill Clinton came to Charlotte and stayed for the night at the White Homestead in Fort Mill. The home is part of the family holdings of Crandall Close Bowles, who is the wife of Erskine Bowles, the former Clinton White House chief of staff and a bigwig in Democratic circles.

Obama could stay there, too, given the Secret Service prefers the president stay in places that don’t draw a lot of attention. However, sources in York County’s travel and tourism business said they hadn’t heard anything about a presidential visit.

But we never underestimate the power of Erskine Bowles.

Coincidentally, back in 1994 the Secret Service would not confirm Clinton was staying at the homestead, even after he appeared in the driveway to shake hands with 125 well-wishers from the neighborhood.

Guess No. 5.

The Duke Mansion in Charlotte. Former Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Wheeler has heard stories about the mansion-turned-hotel being off-limits for bookings during the DNC.

She noted that its courtly design is the perfect place for the president, with plenty of rooms for his security detail and a perimeter that could be easily secured by the Secret Service.

“That’s the one place in town that is presidential,” said Wheeler, who lives two blocks from the site.

A call to the mansion on Friday confirmed that it’s booked during the DNC, and a woman who answered the phone conceded that it’s exactly the kind of a place a president would stay for the night.

Tease.

Guess No. 6

The Lake Norman area, including The Point community or the gated Alexander Island community in South Iredell.

Several people told us they’d heard the president would stay north of Charlotte, with its plentiful lakeside mansions. Adding to the rumors is talk from travel reps that a big chunk of the 1,600 rooms in the Lake Norman area were booked by DNC officials and people affiliated with the government.

We called the Mooresville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to ask if they’d heard rumors of a presidential overnight stay in the area. The receptionist said she’d have someone call us back, but no one ever did.

Hmmmm. Makes you wonder... .

Guess No. 7

Obama will fly in, make his acceptance speech and then fly back out before the tires on Air Force One have even had a chance to cool off.

Breaks your heart just thinking about it.

Price: 704-358-5245

Staff researcher Maria David and staff writers Franco Ordoñez and Elisabeth Arriero contributed.

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