Charlotte still has to spend money to attract visitors turned off by HB2, records show

It’s been more than a year and a half since House Bill 2, a controversial LGBTQ law, was repealed and replaced with a compromise measure. But with Charlotte’s reputation damaged, the city is still paying several million dollars to market itself to visitors.

Included in the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority’s current 2019 budget is $2 million in “Post HB2 Marketing/Sales support,” according to email records obtained by the Observer through a public records request.

The funding is for Visit Charlotte, a division of the CRVA. Visit Charlotte received $1 million last fiscal year for post-HB2 marketing/sales support, according to the report.

The $3 million total isn’t necessarily for one ad or creative approach, CRVA spokeswoman Laura White said. Rather, she said, it’s a “comprehensive place branding strategy” that includes more money spent on Charlotte’s branding, as well as consumer-facing media like TV ads in out-of-state markets and magazine ads.

White said the increase in marketing dollars is meant to deal with three concerns: cleaning up the city’s image post-HB2; improving its reputation following civil unrest from 2016 following the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott; and promoting Charlotte in regional markets such as Austin, Texas, Nashville, Tenn., and Asheville.

In its annual report for fiscal year 2018 sent to Mayor Vi Lyles and Charlotte City Council in late October, the CRVA noted that although HB2 was technically repealed and replaced with House Bill 142, North Carolina still remains under a travel ban from six states, with California and New York having the largest impact.

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“As long as there is a law in North Carolina that creates the grounds for discrimination against LGBT people, I am barring non-essential state travel to that state,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement in May 2017 after HB2 was repealed.

Equality NC, a civil rights group based in Raleigh, said that HB 142 “continues the same anti-LGBTQ scheme put forward by the original measure.”

North Carolina repealed HB2 in 2017 but left intact some of its provisions. But with Charlotte’s reputation tainted, the city is still paying to market itself to visitors. John D. Simmons

States with the travel bans have indicated to local tourism officials that HB 142 “did not go far enough in protecting individuals against discrimination,” said the CRVA, which is a division of the city of Charlotte funded with local hotel/motel and prepared food taxes.

“The CRVA is still finding that conventions with a high percentage of public employees attending are choosing to not come to Charlotte because of the potential of decreased attendance, which is up to 15 percent in some cases,” the group said.

Negative perceptions

HB2, signed into law in March 2016 by then Gov. Pat McCrory, came in response to a Charlotte ordinance that extended legal protections to LGBTQ individuals. The ordinance also made it legal for transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, rather than the one on their birth certificates.

HB2, often called the “bathroom bill,” nullified the Charlotte ordinance, prompting businesses and major events to boycott North Carolina. PayPal, for instance, scrapped its plans to open an operations center in Charlotte. The NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte over HB2. Dozens of entertainers, including Maroon 5 and Bruce Springsteen, canceled North Carolina shows because of the law.

An Associated Press report in spring 2017 indicated that HB2 could cost North Carolina more than $3.76 billion in lost business over 12 years.

In March 2017, the N.C. General Assembly approved a compromise bill, HB 142, that repealed HB2 but prohibits cities from extending protections to LGBTQ people and other groups until Dec. 1, 2020. Gov. Roy Cooper signed the measure into law.

Even after the repeal, roughly one in four travelers had a negative perception of North Carolina because of HB2, according to a July 2017 study commissioned by Destinations International, a professional organization that represents destination management groups.

The CRVA did not receive any “Post HB2 Marketing/Sales support” funding in 2017, said White, the group’s spokeswoman. This just began for the tourism group last fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018.

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As the retail and sports business reporter for the Observer, Katie Peralta covers everything from grocery-store competition in Charlotte to tax breaks for pro sports teams. She is a Chicago native and graduate of the University of Notre Dame.