Politics & Government

Four years after the DNC, what was the long-term impact for Charlotte?

tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

When the Democratic National Convention begins in Philadelphia on Monday, Charlotte will remember its three days hosting the DNC, when the city was in the international spotlight.

Four years after hosting the DNC, there are few signs the convention was here, except for the memories of some key moments.

A dancing police officer directing traffic. A fundraising shortfall. And the sightings of stars: James Taylor. Scarlett Johansson. Mary J Bilge.

Here are five pivotal moments:

A boost for the city’s image – at least temporarily

Four years later, it’s still Charlotte, N.C.

While the 2012 Democratic National Convention was widely seen as a success, the “N.C.” still gets tacked on to the city’s name – unlike Houston or San Francisco.

But boosters said the convention produced immeasurable good exposure – even if the recent controversy over House Bill 2 has put that at risk.

“In the flow of history, the convention will stand as a moment when we strove to be more than we were,” said Jim Rogers, the former chief executive of Duke Energy, who was co-chair of the local host committee.

Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte Chamber, said Charlotte fared particularly well when compared to Tampa, which hosted the Republican National Convention a week earlier.

In Tampa, visitors complained about a police presence that some said was suffocating. In Charlotte, people were able to walk freely around uptown.

Morgan added he did countless television interviews where he got to tout Charlotte.

“How do you put a value on the positive exposure?” he said.

But has HB2 erased that good will?

Rogers doesn’t think so. He said he believes Charlotte is known for trying to do the right thing.

A fundraising challenge

Soon after the Democratic National Committee announced Charlotte had won the 2012 convention, the city of Charlotte began studying a draft of a contract.

One problem jumped out to then-city manager Curt Walton.

In the event the host committee couldn’t raise enough money to stage the convention, the city would be responsible for the gap.

“I don’t know if we would have decided to move forward (unless that was fixed),” Walton said this week.

Walton rejected that provision. It became perhaps the best decision the city made.

The local host committee needed to raise nearly $37 million. The national party placed unprecedented restrictions on corporate donations, and those limits were rescinded for 2016.

The committee fell $10.9 million short. Duke Energy paid that debt, at a cost of $6 million to shareholders.

“The Obama administration restricted our ability to raise money,” Rogers said. “They didn’t tell us about the restrictions when we got the DNC. … I don’t know what in the world they were thinking.”

Long-term city impacts

While Olympics are often touted as a way to leave new infrastructure that can be used after the games, political conventions usually don’t make similar promises.

Former Mayor Anthony Foxx is now U.S. Secretary of Transportation, an appointment he received in no small part due to his successful hosting of the DNC. Leading up to the convention, Foxx said he wanted the DNC to leave a legacy of healthy children and healthy families; youth employment and civic education; energy; building a more diverse economy.

A handful of projects remain from the DNC.

Convention volunteers planted 40 trees in and around uptown, including along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. Volunteers also finished a small park for students at First Ward Elementary and built a playground at the Village of Rosedale Apartments north of uptown.

Perhaps the most visible legacy project is a small park built by the Foundation for the Carolinas adjacent to the Carolina Theatre on Tryon Street. That park remains, but will likely be demolished for planned redevelopment.

Darlene Heater, who worked at Center City Partners during the DNC, said the focus of the former mayor’s legacy projects was to strengthen existing non-profits, like the group Field to Fork, which works to support locally grown food.

Outside of enhancing the city’s image, Walton believes the biggest legacy is new equipment bought with money from a $50 million federal grant to Charlotte and Tampa.

The city bought avionics equipment for police helicopters and new uniforms and riot gear. It also bought surveillance cameras positioned mostly around uptown, which can be monitored from a new command center built for the convention.

Police, protestors stand down

Leading up to the DNC, the city worried about whether it could contain possibly violent protests. The Occupy Wall Street movement had begun a year earlier in New York’s Zuccotti Park and had spread to other cities, including Charlotte.

To prepare for the DNC, the City Council passed a handful of ordinances giving law enforcement more leeway to stop and search people near the convention site.

When the DNC began, far fewer protests showed up than expected. And they were almost all peaceful.

“For the most part it went well,” said Michael Zytkow of Charlotte, who was a leader of the Occupy Charlotte movement. “There were legitimate questions about the type of equipment (CMPD) had. That was one of the first times the public didn’t have the chance to see what would be purchased and what would remain after the convention.”

Former police Chief Rodney Monroe was in part responsible for the lack of arrests and confrontations at the DNC. His policy: Police would not draw any lines in the sand that would result in officers having to make arrests.

CMPD Capt. Mike Campagna, a field commander during the DNC, said the department’s tactics during the DNC were used again, especially during the protests after the trial of former police officer Randall Kerrick who shot and killed an unarmed black motorist in 2013.

“We spent so much time during the DNC preparing for the worst,” Campagna said.

What’s next?

The DNC showed the nation the city could handle one of the nation’s biggest events.

But it did not result in a surge in convention business. In the competitive world of conventions, organizations are more interested in financial incentives.

Rogers said the city isn’t as aspirational as it was leading up to the DNC.

The city discussed bidding on the 2016 Republican National Convention, but there wasn’t an appetite for doing all that work again.

The city did land the 2017 NBA All-Star game after making more than $30 million in improvements to Time Warner Cable Arena. But HB2 caused the NBA to move the game.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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