Charlotte plans to build a 1,000-room hotel uptown, a blockbuster project that could attract more large events but would also need taxpayer support.
The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority said Monday night that it has not decided on a site. But chief executive Tom Murray said he wants the hotel adjacent to the Convention Center, and the only city-owned land adjacent to the center is a three-acre parcel at the corner of Stonewall and Caldwell streets that's now a surface parking lot.
If the CRVA built the hotel on that site, the city would likely build a skybridge over Caldwell Street. That would allow convention guests to walk indoors from College Street to the new site — a span of four city blocks.
The city's biggest hotel today is the 700-room Westin. It was built in 2003 and was subsidized with $16 million in taxpayer funds.
The CRVA said it needs the 1,000-room hotel to attract large conventions. The tourism authority said meeting planners don't like having their guests spread across multiple hotels.
A 1,000-room hotel being built in Austin, Texas, will cost $370 million, according to the Austin American-Statesman newspaper.
Murray discussed the 1,000-room hotel idea with City Council Monday.
Council member LaWana Mayfield asked why the city should spend tax dollars on a private business.
"Hotels are built every day," Mayfield said. "Why would we identify hospitality dollars for this?"
The city's explanation was, essentially, that it's complicated. On their own, 1,000-room hotels are rarely feasible to be built entirely with private money. But since other cities are investing in 1,000-room hotels, Charlotte said it needs a similar hotel to be competitive.
But that argument raises questions.
The city has already hosted the 2012 Democratic National Convention and is a leading contender for the 2020 Republican National Convention. It will host the NBA All-Star Game next year.
Charlotte did not have or need a 1,000-room hotel to either host or be under consideration to host those events.
And in the past, other hotel owners have pushed back against the idea of a taxpayer-supported 1,000-room hotel. The Charlotte Area Hotel Association's past president, Sid Smith, said in the past it would not be fair for the city to subsidize a competitor.
Murray said Monday he believes other hotels are now on board. He said the 1,000-room hotel would attract enough new business to help everyone.
The CRVA plans to update council members on the project this summer. He said he doesn't know yet what brand would be on the hotel.
"We don't have a deal yet," Murray said.
He also didn't say how much public money would be involved. The city would use money from the city's convention center fund, which is a 3 percent tax on hotel rooms and a 1 percent tax on prepared food and beverages sold inside Mecklenburg.
State law says that money can't be used for things such as schools or housing. But it can also be used to renovate Bank of America Stadium. The city expects the new owner of the Carolina Panthers to seek public money to renovate the stadium.
The new hotel would also expand meeting space at the convention center, Murray said.
But it's unclear whether that would lead to new business. In the past, the CRVA has said expansions such as the Westin hotel would bring new business. But the convention business in Charlotte has never reached the original projections made when the convention center was built more than 30 years ago.