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Raleigh visitors bureau: Event cancellations due to HB2 quadruple economic losses

Protestors block Blount Street during a protest against House Bill 2 Thursday, March 24, 2016 outside of the Governors Mansion on North Blount Street in downtown Raleigh, N.C.
Protestors block Blount Street during a protest against House Bill 2 Thursday, March 24, 2016 outside of the Governors Mansion on North Blount Street in downtown Raleigh, N.C. jhknight@newsobserver.com

Wake County’s economic losses resulting from the controversial new law known as HB2 have quadrupled over the last seven days, according to the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The visitors bureau reported April 11 that four groups had canceled plans to hold events in Wake – pulling more than $732,000 in estimated spending – because of House Bill 2, which some say discriminates against the transgender community, gays and lesbians.

Two other events have been canceled, and another has been scaled back since then, the bureau reported in an update Monday. The bureau estimates that the changes cost the county an additional $2.4 million in economic spending, bringing the total of estimated losses to $3.1 million because of HB2.

The biggest cancellation came from the Community Transportation Association of America, which nixed plans to bring 1,000 people to Wake County in June 2018 for a weeklong event, the bureau reported. Event organizers planned to book a total of 2,511 room nights and spend an estimated $1.7 million, the report said, but the Washington, D.C.-based association will instead hold its event in Baltimore.

“We continue to receive concerns from definite and tentative groups regarding HB2,” said Dennis Edwards, the bureau’s president and CEO. “We also have a great deal of concern about those groups that were going to consider Raleigh and North Carolina but have now taken us off of their list of consideration due to the bill.”

Representatives for the transportation association couldn’t be reached for comment Monday afternoon, but the bureau’s report included comments from event organizers. Members of the association’s board of directors expressed “dismay” over the new law, according to the bureau report.

Fewer hotel bookings

Organizers of a planned “Record Store Day,” which aimed to piggyback on the success of the Hopscotch music festival, canceled a three-day event in September. The bureau estimated Record Store Day would draw 126 people, prompt 560 hotel room bookings and generate $191,000 in economic spending.

Record Store Day organizers will instead hold the event in Baltimore, said Carrie Colliton, director of marketing for the Department of Record Stores and co-founder of the event.

“Record stores are a place of joy and discovery, and their doors are open to everyone,” Colliton wrote in a statement, adding that the event may not return to Raleigh until there is corrective legislative action. “We look forward to showing off Raleigh and the true spirit of North Carolina after the repeal of HB2.”

Meanwhile, the National Black Heritage Championship Swim Meet plans to hold an event in Cary late next month. About 3,000 people were expected to attend and book 1,500 hotel room nights, but event organizers say more than 100 hotel room reservations were recently canceled due to HB2.

All together, the bureau estimates that $28 million in potential visitor spending is in jeopardy as a result of cancellations due to HB2, up from an estimate of $24 million last week. The bureau reports that leaders of seven events, five of which are considering the Raleigh Convention Center between this year and 2020, may decide to go elsewhere because of HB2.

The bureau didn’t release the names of the seven events that may go elsewhere but did release details of their event plans and email snippets from event organizers. Combined, the seven new events in jeopardy would bring 4,425 people, 7,889 hotel room night stays and about $5 million in economic spending over the next four years, the bureau said.

HB2’s mounting economic impacts will likely emerge in lawmakers’ discussions of the bill in the legislative session that begins Monday.

The Republican-led state General Assembly adopted the law after Charlotte passed its own ordinance that, among other things, would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom meant for the gender with which they identify. Supporters say HB2 protects women and children from harassment in the bathroom, while opponents say it is insensitive to the needs and rights of transgender people and other minorities.

Lawmakers urge patience

Some Republican state lawmakers from Wake County last week urged patience, saying local hotels and venues could book other events to take the place of those that have canceled. Three of the eight lost organizations – that would have booked 3,300 hotel room nights and generated $1.9 million in economic spending – are planning events for 2017 or later.

Gov. Pat McCrory on Sunday morning defended the law on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where host Chuck Todd told him that an NBC analysis found North Carolina has lost between $39.7 million and $186 million due to companies and events not coming to the state in protest.

McCrory didn’t directly address the economic consequences of HB2, saying only that there’s a disconnect between corporations and everyday people.

“I walked into a buffet restaurant, African-American buffet restaurant, and the people just welcomed me with open arms and said, ‘Thanks for protecting us.’ I got back in my car, and I got a call from someone in corporate America going, ‘Man, you’ve got to change this. We’re getting killed,’ ” McCrory said.

His office didn’t respond to a request for comment on Monday.

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.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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