Charlotte has not had a major convention cancel because of House Bill 2, but the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority said it has lost smaller events scheduled for area hotels.
Future bookings could be at risk if the impasse over the law continues, the agency has warned.
Some conventions that the CRVA had said could pull out over HB2 decided to still come to Charlotte, though at least one group told its members it couldn’t afford to cancel. Since HB2 passed, the Charlotte Convention Center has held 10 conventions or events.
One of the concerned groups, the American Public Transportation Association, went ahead with its recent Bus and Paratransit Conference at the Westin Charlotte and at the Convention Center.
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In early April, John Lewis, chief executive of the Charlotte Area Transit System, texted City Manager Ron Carlee about the APTA conference.
Lewis said he had just spoken with APTA’s chief executive, who told him the group had a “significant rise” in attendees declining to come, and that APTA was considering canceling the conference. That alarmed city officials and prompted Mayor Jennifer Roberts to ask the CRVA to compile a list of financial losses from HB2. She wanted to use the figures to highlight HB2’s harm to the city for state leaders.
But APTA decided not to cancel. In a statement, the group said, “This decision was not made lightly, and we know it will not please everyone.”
“One chief reason we decided to proceed is to support the city of Charlotte, which has long had a track record of creating an environment that not only values diversity, but strongly embraces it.”
The APTA event was projected to use just under 2,900 hotel room nights.
In the wake of HB2, the CRVA helped launch the “Always Welcome” marketing campaign, which has tried to distance Charlotte from HB2.
In all, the CRVA has listed 36 events as “hesitant/concerned” about coming to Charlotte. Those total 111,775 hotel room nights and an estimated $84 million in visitor spending.
The city has had seven small events cancel at Charlotte hotels, according to the CRVA. The CRVA also said it has lost 13 events that were in the final selection process.
Those 20 smaller events would have used about 16,000 hotel room nights.
Monitoring All-Star Game
The event the CRVA is watching closest, the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, would use an estimated 27,720 hotel room nights and generate about $60 million in spending.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in April said HB2 is troubling for the league, but he did not set a timetable for changes to the law. Many in the city believed his comments were good news and that the game wouldn’t be moved.
But a week later, Silver told a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors that the law needed to be changed for the game to stay in Charlotte.
Other conventions have remained despite objections to the law. The Regional Airline Association had been listed as “concerned” by the CRVA but held a convention in Charlotte May 9-12. It used 1,845 room nights.
The American Association of Laboratory Animal Science is holding its 2016 meeting in Charlotte in early November, despite reservations about the law. It is expected to use 10,775 hotel room nights, making it a large convention.
In a statement to its members, the group said it couldn’t afford to cancel.
“Many of you have asked if the AALAS National Meeting can be relocated to a nondiscriminatory state. … Unfortunately, at this late date, if AALAS exited contractual agreements for the meeting in Charlotte, our professional organization would incur a minimum of $3 million in financial penalties and refunds.”
The group also said it would need to avoid other states nationally considering “anti-LGBT” bills.
Canceling a convention for the spring or summer would also likely affect people attending, many of whom likely already bought plane tickets and made travel plans.
Impact on future events?
It’s possible that the CRVA will feel the full impact of HB2 in the future, as it tries to land new conventions.
Two groups that have already canceled events are the American College Personnel Association, which planned to meet at the Holiday Inn Center City in June, and the Southern Sociological Society, which planned to meet at the Westin Charlotte in April.
Another group, Ebony Pyramid Entertainment, has canceled its “Legendary International Pageant” that was scheduled for Charlotte in August.
The CRVA has not listed any cancellations by conventions or groups planning to meet in Charlotte in at least a month.
The band Maroon 5 on Friday canceled planned shows in Charlotte and Raleigh. The band was supposed to play Time Warner Cable Arena Sept. 11.
CRVA declined to comment about specific conventions or meetings.
“At this time, we are continuing to remain in close contact with the customers who have expressed concerns and are awaiting further decisions,” said Tom Murray, CRVA’s chief executive. “To date, most of the short-term damage is happening at the hotel level. We are closely monitoring the impacts for the Convention Center to see how this may affect the long-term pace of future bookings.”
The Charlotte City Council on Monday is scheduled to hear a report from the CRVA, the Charlotte Chamber and other groups about the economic impact of HB2.
Council member James Mitchell, chairman of the economic development committee, recently met with legislative leaders in Raleigh about a possible compromise on the law.
The leaders – House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger – had previously told Roberts that the city could vote to repeal the ordinance that sparked HB2. In return, the state could modify HB2.
Roberts has not shown interest in such a vote. She has said LGBT rights are “non-negotiable.”
Some council members who support Roberts believe Mitchell wants to use the economic impact reports to convince council members to repeal the ordinance. Mitchell has said he’s only trying to gather information.