A year after surcharge, CIAA ready to move forward

What Charlotte means to the CIAA

Officials discuss Charlotte as the home of the CIAA tournament.
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Officials discuss Charlotte as the home of the CIAA tournament.

A year after the Ritz-Carlton uptown sparked controversy by charging lounge patrons extra during the annual CIAA basketball tournament in Charlotte, officials say they’re ready to move on.

The conference has been holding planning meetings with the Ritz ahead of this year’s tournament, and the two have built a “great partnership,” said Jacqie McWilliams, CIAA commissioner.

“At the end of the day ... you pick up the pieces and keep moving. That’s what we’ve done,” McWilliams said Monday after a CIAA news conference in uptown Charlotte.

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the oldest African-American sports conference in the U.S., has hosted its annual basketball tournament in Charlotte since 2006 and last year had an economic impact of $55.6 million despite bad weather, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

Officials anticipate more than 150,000 visitors for this year’s games at Time Warner Cable Arena, with over 80 percent coming from out of town. Men’s and women’s games kick off Tuesday, semifinals are Friday, and the tournament culminates with championship games Saturday.

But last year, the Ritz came under fire when it tacked on a 15 percent charge during the tournament, prompting an investigation and threats of a lawsuit from N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper. A Mint Hill woman and her husband had noticed a $10.20 line item for a “CIAA service charge” on their order of drinks and sweet potato fries.

The Ritz issued a statement apologizing to customers for what it called a “misunderstanding” that wasn’t meant to single out any group, and refunded three customers who applied for their money back.

The Ritz paid a total of $80,111.61 under the settlement, which includes $75,000 to the CIAA scholarship fund, $5,000 to the attorney general’s office for consumer protection efforts and $111.61 for consumer refunds, Cooper’s office said.

“We have been working in close partnership with our CIAA colleagues to ensure an enjoyable week for all guests at the hotel,” Seamus Gallagher, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said in a statement.

The Ritz won’t be implementing a service charge this year, Gallagher added.

Last year’s Ritz incident hasn’t had much bearing on other relationships Charlotte businesses have with the CIAA, said Tom Murray, chief executive officer of the CRVA.

“It was one single event, and we’re not really focusing on it this year. Our hospitality community has served this group for 10 years now, going into our 11th,” Murray said.

Matthew Coates, president of Elizabeth City State University’s booster club, told the Observer’s media partner WFAE that he’s not letting last year’s controversy keep him from attending the tournament but said he knew of others who were having second thoughts. He said the incident at the Ritz still hurts.

“I just wouldn’t want to go there just based on what happened last year,” Coates said.

Looking ahead, next year’s CIAA tournament comes one week after the NBA All-Star Game, which Charlotte is also hosting. The CRVA anticipates the combined economic impact of the back-to-back sporting events will rival that of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which yielded about a $164 million impact for Charlotte.

“Every significant event we do, we continue to grow in our skills,” Murray said. “It will be a busy two weeks for us as a community, but it will also be the most significant economic impact for those two combined events in the history of Charlotte.”

The CIAA agreed in 2014 to keep its annual tournament in Charlotte through 2020 as well as move its headquarters to the city. In return, the CRVA increased its annual payment to the athletic association from $1 million to $1.4 million.

Observer news partner WFAE contributed.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta