With HB2 repeal suddenly in sight, business leaders welcome chance for a ‘reset’

Charlotte Jennifer Mayor Roberts discusses LGBT ordinance

Following a surprise move by the Charlotte City Council, Gov.-elect Roy Cooper said Monday that legislative leaders have promised to call a special session to consider repealing House Bill 2.
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Following a surprise move by the Charlotte City Council, Gov.-elect Roy Cooper said Monday that legislative leaders have promised to call a special session to consider repealing House Bill 2.

The Charlotte Chamber and other business leaders on Monday praised a surprise move by the city council that could lead to the repeal of House Bill 2, calling it a “reset” for a state that has experienced economic boycotts over the controversial LGBT law.

In an unexpected move, council members on Monday voted to repeal a non-discrimination ordinance that had prompted the state legislature in March to pass HB2, which restricts protections for LGBT individuals. The city’s repeal specifies that its nondiscrimination ordinance will be revived if the General Assembly doesn’t repeal HB2 by Dec. 31.

Outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday he would call a special session to consider repeal of HB2 on Wednesday.

Many large companies with operations in the state have called for the repeal of HB2. They have also expressed support for the principles of inclusion and diversity behind the Charlotte measure, which allowed transgender individuals to use public bathrooms that matched their gender identity.

The Charlotte Chamber – which championed a similar deal between the state and city council in September that Mayor Jennifer Roberts and City Council turned down – praised the city’s repeal vote Monday.

“We commend the Charlotte City Council for taking action to bring about a solution to the controversy surrounding the passage of the City of Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance and the subsequent passage of House Bill 2,” said Chamber CEO Bob Morgan, in a statement.“We encourage the North Carolina General Assembly to act promptly.”

Morgan declined to be interviewed. Past Charlotte Chamber Chairman Ned Curran, the CEO of developer Bissell and another supporter of the September compromise, called the city’s move “a helpful and necessary step in a process where others will likewise be called upon to take difficult positions,” and said he hopes HB2 will be repealed soon.

In response to HB2, major sporting events such as the ACC football championship and the NBA All-Star Game pulled out of Charlotte, while major entertainment acts canceled shows statewide.

Businesses also protested the move: PayPal canceled an expansion in Charlotte and CoStar Group chose Richmond, Va., over Charlotte for a project. Those two moves together cost the city more than 1,100 jobs.

Sid Smith, immediate past executive director of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association, said an earlier deal could have stopped job and convention losses earlier.

“The offer to do that has been standing for months now,” said Smith. “This sounds like a resuscitation that’s occurring now that the (gubernatorial) election is over.”

Smith said a potential repeal opens up business opportunities for entities that may now reconsider Charlotte after dropping the city off their radar.

“It should certainly remove a hurdle that some entities have used it to make a political statement by not coming here for their events or moving their business here,” said Smith.

The North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association has been working “for months” to help broker a compromise on HB2, which has resulted in “hundreds of millions of dollars” in losses in the state’s tourism industry, said Lynn Minges, the group’s president and CEO.

“We’re glad it looks like it might be happening,” Minges said of the possibility of a repeal. “Our plea has been ‘let’s figure this out, let’s find a compromise so we can get our state moving again.’”

Maxwell Hanks, a broker with Spectrum Properties leasing the new 300 South Tryon office building, said HB2 has been hurting business recruitment in the state.

“I think on a go-forward basis rescinding HB2 will be a great way to close out 2016 and start 2017 anew,” said Hanks. He said the move offered the potential for a “reset,” and that it would help him and other brokers lure companies to the state.

“From commercial real estate and economic development perspectives, this is in the ‘no-brainer’ category,” said Hanks.

On Friday, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan told the Observer in an interview that employers considering places to locate jobs were passing over North Carolina because of HB2, and he urged a “resolution” of the situation. On Monday, a bank spokesman directed the Observer to the company’s previous comments on the issue.

Wells Fargo, which had joined a letter opposing HB2, declined to comment.

Vince Chelena, current executive director of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association, said the group will make an official statement after the HB2 matter is resolved.

“As far as the Charlotte area hotels are concerned, regardless of the law, we take care of every single guest,” said Chelena. “The boycotts themselves have of course affected our business, and that in turn has affected our employees and the number of hours they’ve been able to work. That has been unfortunate.”

Staff writer Deon Roberts contributed

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo