Crime & Courts

Charlotte city leaders stand by CIAA tournament after gunshots fired

Bullets created marks in the entrance to the Skye Condominiums.
Bullets created marks in the entrance to the Skye Condominiums. Steve Harrison/sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

City leaders said Monday they are committed to the weeklong CIAA basketball tournament, despite gunshots fired Sunday morning near the Hyatt Place hotel in uptown, the third shooting event related to the tournament in as many years.

But the spectacular nature of the shooting – in which three out-of-town suspects allegedly used an AK-47 to fire as many as 50 rounds – has concerned the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. The group said it wants to partner with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police to scrutinize parties that attach themselves onto the CIAA.

“We’ve discovered challenges regarding some issues with unsanctioned events when it comes to involving the tournament weekend in recent years,” said CRVA spokeswoman Laura Hill. “We want to look at ways we can create meaningful change in tightening up the parameters of unsanctioned events to ensure the safety of our visitors and residents.”

Police arrested three men who they said were in Charlotte for the CIAA. At around 4:40 a.m. Sunday, the men fired from the parking deck of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center toward the hotel. The bullets hit a Mercedes-Benz van and a red SUV that were parked on the street.

The bullets shattered some of the windows at the entrance to the Skye Condominiums, which shares the tower with the Hyatt. There are also marks from bullets in the black granite at street level.

John Ferguson, who lives on the 19th floor of the tower, said he is worried about the tournament’s impact on uptown.

“I used to be all for the basketball tournament being here,” he said Monday. “But when you start having gunfire, it kind of turns you off.”

CMPD did not respond for comment Monday about its investigation into the incident.

The CIAA isn’t the only uptown event that’s had violence. In 2011, Speed Street was marred by several fights after the event ended, as well as a shooting death near the Hilton Center City.

City council member James “Smuggie” Mitchell, who chairs the city’s economic development committee, said CIAA fans still feel safe.

He said it’s important to remember the tournament has been in Charlotte for 11 years, and there have been no “casualties” associated with the event. In recent years, the CIAA has allowed fans to complete an online survey at its Fan Fest, and the results show people feel safe, Mitchell said.

“People go online, and we ask, ‘Do you feel safe?’” Mitchell said. “We will ask, ‘How was the Southern hospitality?’ We have heard comments in the past like, ‘hotel prices were high,’ so we adjusted the hotel prices. We used those surveys to make the tournament better.”

Asked about the gunfire in the last three years, Mayor Jennifer Roberts did not address the shooting in a statement to the Observer.

“The CIAA is one of the many large events we want to host in Charlotte and we will continue to work with all parties to make it a successful event for our city,” she said.

Charlotte first hosted the CIAA basketball tournament in 2006, after winning the event from Raleigh. The first years of the tournament were uneventful, with little crime.

In 2014, the CRVA and the CIAA signed a new six-year extension to keep the tournament in Charlotte. The CRVA has said the CIAA is the city’s “largest convention” with more than $30 million in direct spending.

Charlotte was eager to keep it.

Under the old contract, the CIAA’s previous payment from the CRVA was $1 million. That grew this year to $1.9 million.

Most of the payment comes from hospitality taxes, and was used to pay for scholarships, rent at Time Warner Cable Arena and to help the CIAA move its offices to Charlotte from Hampton, Va.

As part of the $1.9 million, the city contributed $300,000 from its general fund. The county spent $260,000.

The city is obligated to host the next four CIAA tournaments.

During the 2014 tournament, a man and a woman were both shot in the leg early during a party that featured rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs. It happened in a ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel, sending thousands of CIAA fans and others streaming onto McDowell Street early Sunday.

A year later, two people were shot in the Label nightclub in the NC Music Factory complex. The club was hosting a “CIAA Weekend Takeover Party.” They survived.

On the same night, two people were stabbed at the Oasis Tent, a hospitality area at North College and Ninth streets for CIAA fans.

The CIAA has been estimated to contribute to 40,000 hotel room nights, which would make it by far the city’s biggest event, from a hotel perspective. It also comes during a slow period for hoteliers, which makes it more lucrative.

“We love having the CIAA tournament here,” said Sid Smith of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association, which represents full-service hotels. “Ninety-nine percent of the people here are absolutely wonderful. It’s something that’s unfortunate and unwanted, but these things are going to happen.”

CMPD had already declared the CIAA an extraordinary event, which gives police more latitude to stop people suspected of being trouble-makers. It had more officers working uptown than usual.

Outside of the three arrests for the AK-47 shooting, CMPD made only nine arrests during the weekend of the tournament.

City Council member Kenny Smith said he doesn’t think CMPD was unprepared for the CIAA, and said he’s not sure that police can do any more to keep people safe.

“I think there is a lot of eye-rolling around town today,” Smith said. “I’m worried people aren’t going to come uptown for any event, not just the CIAA.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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