White Lodging exec on what to expect from upcoming luxury hotel in uptown

The 381-room JW Marriott heading to uptown will be White Lodging's first foray in the Charlotte market — and in all of the Carolinas, for that matter.

The company, which is headquartered in Merrillville, Indiana, is developing the 21-story luxury hotel at the intersection of Stonewall and College streets, where a law firm kept its office for decades before the property was acquired and later demolished to make way for the mixed-use development headed up by Crescent Communities, which is building Ally Charlotte Center, a 26-story office tower anchored by Ally Financial.

Both the hotel and office tower are purposefully being built in tandem, said Doug Nysse, vice president of development at White Lodging. In fact, the excavation and site work that Crescent began months ago is not only preparing the site for Ally Charlotte Center but also for the hotel. Both buildings are expected to open in early 2021 after going vertical next year.

"The fundamentals that we’re seeing in Charlotte between continued job growth, population growth, the airport, general access to the metro area are all critical to our decision to invest in any particular market," Nysse said. "We’ve been tracking that in Charlotte over the last several years and, of course, have done deep diligence in the past couple of years in preparation of this project."

White Lodging is prolific in the Northeast and Midwest, with a much smaller footprint in the Southeast (on its website, it lists two hotels in Tennessee, four in Florida and one in Virginia but none in the Carolinas or Georgia).

Nysse said because of the company's exposure to Charlotte with the JW Marriott project, it's possible more projects could be pursued in Charlotte looking ahead.

White Lodging declined to comment on the expected cost of the hotel.

JW Marriott Charlotte will be White Lodging's third JW Marriott in its portfolio but the one here will be markedly smaller than its other hotels in Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis, each of which have more than 1,000 rooms — the Austin hotel is that city's largest, at 1,012 rooms, according to data from the Austin Business Journal, a sister publication of the Charlotte Business Journal. The JW Marriott Indianapolis has 1,005 rooms.

"The experiences that we can deliver to our guests (at the JW Marriott) Charlotte are really more on the boutique and lifestyle focus versus the convention center focus," Nysse said.

The city of Charlotte has for years discussed the prospect of building a convention center hotel — a project that typically includes public subsidy; here, the request is expected to be $100 million in taxpayer money — to help bolster Charlotte's convention business. The Marriott IndyPlace hotel complex in Indianapolis, of which the JW Marriott was the centerpiece, carried a price tag of $450 million when it opened in early 2011.

Nysee declined to speculate about whether White Lodging, which has built a number of convention center-size hotels, would one day be interested in building a convention center hotel in the Queen City.

"We're focusing first on (the JW Marriott), but we’re certainly aware of the conversation and we’re tracking it very closely," he said.

Nysse spoke about White Lodging's upcoming investment here and, briefly, what can be expected in the JW Marriott Charlotte. Excepts have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What compelled White Lodging to build a luxury hotel in uptown Charlotte for its first project here?

We think this is the A-plus site for the next fine hotel in the city, between the development Crescent's doing on the site and down the street at Stonewall Station, with the residential and the Whole Foods, and other cranes you see with office development. Very conveniently, we’re diagonal from the convention center, so between an increase in the corporate office space, the amenities of the residents along the street and in the area, and the convention center, this is the center of all activity.

Demand for guestrooms themselves is critical for any hotel development, but in order for this to be our first major investment in Charlotte, it's also absolutely critical that this project ends up being focused on the social scene. In this realm, we have bars and restaurants ... although they’re going to be in the footprint of the hotel, they will be hopefully be outward-focused food and beverage outlets (and) really active.

There are many things playing in our favor — increased residential growth in the area and also, in this particular case, the plaza being built as part of this mixed-use development provides the hotel with exposure to the plaza and other food and beverage outlets that are being developed by Asana on the site.

Does White Lodging exclusively build urban hotels or do you have suburban properties as part of the portfolio mix?

The focus is on urban-center hotels but in other markets, like in Louisville (Kentucky), in the downtown market, we have midrise and high rise (hotels) like Aloft, Homewood Suites, a Moxy Hotel with (a Marriott) Autograph Collection hotel, but in addition, we build select-service hotels in targeted suburban locations — in the Chicago metro area, in Louisville, we're looking in Denver. We can leverage our operational infrastructure — not just urban projects and not just suburban projects but a whole array of them.

Why JW Marriott for the Ally Charlotte Center site?

We have strong brand ties with the Marriott family of brands, specifically JW Marriott. They are fine hotels (and) well-regarded by our guests and our associates, the two most important stakeholders we have in the properties. The opportunity that we see in Charlotte is for a branded hotel that’s very top-end within the marketplace, and that’s also tied to location. There are other fine hotels in Charlotte but this one ... absolutely was the right brand for this location.

What can we expect from the JW Marriott here?

(A boutique and lifestyle focus) will be demonstrated in terms of the intimacy of the spaces, the differentiation of not just the terrific guestrooms that we'll have, but also the community and meeting spaces that we'll have. Pretty much all of our breakout spaces and any of our meeting rooms will have natural light. We’re able to have terrific meeting experiences in the Charlotte location (because) we don’t have to build tremendously huge ballrooms the way that we do in our convention center hotels. We’ll be putting guestrooms on all four sides, which will give our guests a 360-degree view of the city.

Was having an office tower with a signed anchor tenant necessary for White Lodging's involvement?

It was absolutely critical. When Ally signed on to the development for 400,000 square feet ... it was a great demonstration of the success of the market, and it's helpful from a demand standpoint for the hotel to be tied so closely with that development.

What retail outlets will White Lodging develop at the JW Marriott Charlotte?

We have a full division of concepts and offerings to make sure they meet the market. Certainly, we’ve gone through diligence in the market to see where guests are and see where we can position our offerings to make sure it’s truly a destination and guest-focused.

Luxury hotel flag confirmed for uptown Charlotte site

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The hotel flag for a prominent uptown site in Charlotte has been confirmed.

White Lodging will develop a 21-story, 381-room JW Marriott hotel at the corner of Stonewall and College streets, in partnership with Charlotte-based Crescent Communities, which is developing the 26-story Ally Charlotte Center office tower on the same block. White Lodging out of Merrillville, Indiana, says it expects to open the JW Marriott — Charlotte's first — in 2021, the same year Crescent will open Ally Charlotte Center.

Charlotte's JW Marriott, a luxury brand of Marriott International Inc. (NASDAQ: MAR), will feature "modern guest rooms" in addition to an "expansive" outdoor terrace on the fifth floor, which will include a swimming pool and bar with alfresco seating. The hotel will also include Spa by JW, JW Marriott’s full-service luxury spa concept; a "sizable" coworking executive lounge; and a bar with outdoor seating that will connect to the project's plaza and adjacent businesses.

JW Marriott Charlotte’s lobby lounge will include outdoor seating that allows for dining on Stonewall Street. White Lodging-developed restaurant concepts, which have yet to be confirmed, will be part of the hotel as well.

The hotel will have 22,000 square feet of meeting and event space — the outdoor terrace, a grand ballroom that measures more than 5,100 square feet, a 2,400-square-foot junior ballroom and nearly 7,000 square feet of additional breakout space.

Deno Yiankes, president and CEO of investments and developments at White Lodging, said in a statement that the JW Marriott Charlotte will provide a "modern luxury lodging option" adjacent to sports and cultural events as well as conventions.

“The burgeoning Stonewall corridor of Charlotte is experiencing tremendous modernization and growth, and further defining itself as an economic and entertainment hub in the Queen City,” Yiankes said.

Yiankes was not available Wednesday morning to discuss the project further.

Crescent Communities is underway on Ally Charlotte Center, a 742,000-square-foot office building that Ally Financial is anchoring with about 400,000 square feet. The project also includes 30,000 square feet of retail that Charlotte-based Asana Partners is heading up and a 20,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza.

Brian Leary, president of commercial and mixed use for Crescent, said the companies were "laser-focused" on getting a higher-end hotel brand for the site.

"We felt there was a gap in the market at that end of town," he continued. "We see the complementary nature of a hotel use to an office use (as being) more and more valuable."

Leary said there were no updates at Ally Charlotte Center, including any new lease deals, adding the office and retail components have seen "tremendous interest." The site work Crescent is doing on the block today is laying the foundation for the hotel, and Leary said he expects White Lodging to go vertical on JW Marriott Charlotte by early next year.

Leary said Crescent's commercial and mixed-use division is looking to do more projects in Charlotte, especially in places with a "thriving pedestrian environment," but declined to comment further.

"We love our hometown and we love what is going on here," he said. "I think there's tremendous opportunity here."

There are currently more than 80 JW Marriott hotels globally. White Lodging is a hospitality owner, developer and manager, and operates JW Marriott hotels in Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis. The JW Marriott Charlotte appears to be White Lodging's first hotel in North Carolina.

The JW Marriott Charlotte is the latest in a number of hotels planned or under construction in center city right now. Farther east along Stonewall, a 176-room Even Hotel and a 180-room Home2 Suites by Hilton are being built at the corner of Stonewall and Caldwell streets. At Trade and Church streets, a 254-room Grand Bohemian Hotel is under construction. In the planning stages are a 270-room InterContinental Hotel at the Carolina Theatre site on North Tryon Street, a 213-room Homewood Suites by Hilton at North College and East Eighth streets, and a Moxy Hotel with up to 180 rooms at South Brevard and East Fourth streets.

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Charlotte can be a restaurant destination city, tourism leaders say. Here's how.

Can Charlotte become a dining destination in the same league with Southern cities like Charleston, Austin, Texas, Nashville and Atlanta?

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which promotes tourism and events, is sending a team of seven chefs and mixologists to New York in November for a Charlotte Tastemakers Dinner at the James Beard House, the home base of the culinary foundation that supports American regional cuisine. The regional authority said the trip would cost about $35,000.

That follows the first big effort last spring, when the CRVA helped to support a large Charlotte contingent — 22 chefs, mixologists and brewers from 19 restaurants and breweries — at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, one of the biggest food festivals in the South with more than 29,000 visitors.

“That was new to us, to go to a city that has such a respected culinary scene and see if we could generate some excitement,” said CRVA spokeswoman Laura White with the CRVA.

Focusing on Charlotte as a culinary destination is part of branding efforts stemming from the CRVA. One of the key themes of the promotion is culinary, according to White.

While the CRVA isn’t footing the entire bill for the New York trip (Big Green Egg and poultry producer Springer Mountain Farms are also sponsors), the authority is investing in putting Charlotte on the dining map, according to White and spokeswoman Kristen Moore of the CRVA.

The CRVA’s budget is about $70 million a year, said White. Half of that comes from money generated by venues that draw visitors, like the Charlotte Convention Center and performing arts venues. The other half comes from hotel/motel occupancy taxes. A portion of the occupancy tax goes to the CRVA for advertising and promotion.

White points out that Charlotte’s 2018 budget for sales and marketing, $5.2 million, is less than half of Nashville’s $11.6 million. Atlanta spent $8.1 million, Charleston spent $8 million and Asheville spent $7.8 million. All are cities that are regularly listed as Southern dining destinations in coverage of the region.

The perception of Charlotte’s food scene by visitors may already be changing: Surveys of visitors have shown that the city’s dining is becoming a bigger driver of visitor interest.

A 2018 CRVA study of visitor perceptions of Charlotte compared to other markets showed that 57 percent strongly agreed that Charlotte has a wide variety of restaurant options vs. 38 percent for other cities. And 46 percent strongly agreed that the city offers “exceptional dining experience,” compared to 27 percent for other cities.

Of the types of leisure activities people did on recent trips here, a TravelUSA study from last year shows that dining was the biggest, at 52 percent, compared to “visiting friends and relatives,” at 45 percent. Visiting a local brewery came in at 14 percent, and attending a sports event was 13 percent.

Numbers like that are encouraging the CRVA to support drawing attention to the culinary world, White said.

“When we look at that visitor profile every year (and see dining perceptions rising), that’s what our end target is. While there isn’t one silver bullet, it’s the collective efforts.”

Even if you aren’t a visitor to Charlotte, drawing in more tourists with restaurants in mind can pay off, says White. Hospitality and leisure is the fourth largest industry for jobs in Mecklenburg County, she says, with one in nine jobs coming from hospitality.

If you aren’t likely to be in New York on Nov. 16 for the James Beard dinner, you can still get a taste: The chefs and mixologists headed to New York — Ashley Bivens Boyd of 300 East, William Dissen of Haymaker, Joe Kindred of Kindred and Hello Sailor, Bruce Moffett of the Moffett Restaurant Group, Paul Verica of The Stanley, Colleen Hughes of Haberdish and cocktail consultant Bob Peters — will do a run-through of the menu at The Stanley at 6 p.m. Nov. 5. Tickets are $95 and are available at www.eventbrite.com.

And if you are headed to New York, the dinner at the James Beard House is $180 ($140 for members). Tickets are available at www.jamesbeard.org.

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Local RNC staff expands as focus turns to hotel, venue agreements

The local organizing group for the Republican National Convention is almost large enough to call a committee. In recent weeks, the group, led by CEO John Lassiter, has hired five people and, by the time the convention gets here in 2020, will have a staff of 25 to 30 people.

New hires include Towers Mingledorff as chief operating officer, Scott Syfert as general counsel and Kim Bowman as controller. Ashley Simmons, a former spokesperson for the city of Charlotte now with Moore & Van Allen, is interim communications director and Andrea Mathis is executive administrator. 

Mingledorff brings both public- and private-sector experience, most recently with software company SAS in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, he was part of the Washington office of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) and spent time on the legislative staff at the General Assembly in Raleigh. Syfert, a local attorney, is the son of former city manager Pam Syfert.

On Monday, Lassiter and Mingledorff spoke to CBJin a conference room at Moore & Van Allen’s uptown offices. Mingledorff said he is concentrating on working to complete contracts for 17,000 hotel rooms and assemble a venue guide for the 3,200 caucuses, parties, meetings and other events that will occur around the convention. Earlier this month, the RNC disclosed the dates for the convention: Aug. 24-27, 2020.

Lassiter and Mingledorff said much of their committee’s work will be in tandem with the Republican National Committee’s convention staff, which will begin moving here and ramping up at the end of this year. At peak employment, the RNC organizers in Charlotte will number 200.

In the near term, Lassiter said the local host committee will add two or three more people. The next hires include a local director of finance and a director of engagement who will focus on legacy projects that will live on and benefit the area after the convention.

“The idea is to add people as we need them,” he said. “And not grow too fast, not get ahead of our cash flow and not have people sitting around without things to focus on.”

The local committee, known as Charlotte 2020, is charged with raising $70 million to cover operating expenses, including $27.6 million for staging and other changes at Spectrum Center, the main convention site.

National and local Republican representatives said this month that fund-raising is on pace. According to bid documents, the GOP, through Lassiter’s local host committee, committed to raise $21.5 million by the end of this year.

Mingledorff assisted with the city’s convention bid at the suggestion of Sen. Tillis. Soon after Charlotte landed the RNC, Lassiter offered him a job as chief operating officer.

All of the hotel rooms for the convention are within an 11-mile radius of uptown, the organizers said Monday. Two properties scheduled to be finished early in 2020 — a 270-room InterContinental Hotel and the 254-room Grand Bohemian Hotel Charlotte, both being built uptown — will be used if they’re ready in time. Lassiter said organizers have options if those hotels are unavailable, but said their proximity to the NBA arena and the convention center as well as upscale reputations make them a good fit for convention-goers.

Charlotte hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2012. Since then, Lassiter noted, about 5,000 hotel rooms have been added. In March, the $1.2 billion, 9-mile light-rail line known as the Blue Line Extension opened. It connects uptown with UNC Charlotte, providing an easy shuttle connection for delegates and other visitors who can stay at hotels located near Charlotte Motor Speedway and Concord Mills and then take the train directly to the arena without having to fight traffic or find parking.

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Charlotte to bid for ACC baseball tournament

The Charlotte Knights hope to stave off International League rivals Durham and Louisville — not on the field, but for the Atlantic Coast Conference baseball tournament. Dan Rajkowski, Knights chief operating officer, told CBJ the Triple-A minor league team intends to bid to host the tournament beginning with the 2020 season.

Representatives from the ACC and the International League confirmed anticipated bids from all three teams. Durham landed a four-year contract to host the tournament in 2015, an agreement extended by one year, through 2019, because the conference relocated the event in 2017 due to a state law preventing anti-discrimination protection for LGBT people. After the state repealed the law, the tournament returned.

The year it left Durham, Louisville was the ACC baseball tournament’s home.

In Durham, it generated close to $10 million for the local economy this year, according to The News & Observer in Raleigh. The ACC has its headquarters in Greensboro and five of the 15 member schools are in the Carolinas (four in North Carolina and one in South Carolina).

Twelve of the 15 schools play in the weeklong tournament, with two not qualifying. Syracuse does not have a baseball team.

“We’re interested,” Rajkowski said of potentially hosting the tournament. “You get the right teams, it’s a grand slam.”

Just before BB&T BallPark opened in 2014, the Knights pursued the ACC tournament, but scuttled those plans because of uncertainty about possible conflicts with other outside events and to get better acclimated with the new stadium. The ACC played the baseball tournament in the Charlotte area in 2000 and 2001, when the Knights still played in Fort Mill.

Neither the Knights nor the conference provided a selection date for the next baseball site. Rajkowski was uncertain whether the next baseball site will be selected for a four-year run.

BB&T BallPark, the Knights’ home field in uptown, has steadily increased the number of college games it hosts since opening in 2014. North Carolina and NC State are among the ACC schools that have played regular season games here in recent years.

Charlotte has been a championship site for ACC sports for decades. The city first hosted the men’s basketball tournament in 1968 and will do so next in March 2019.

The NFL stadium uptown became home of the football championship game in 2010, hosting every year since with the exception of 2017. In April, the ACC extended its commitment for the football game through 2030. The ACC Football Championship generated $21 million in visitor spending last year, including hotels, meals and other spending by visiting fans and teams, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

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Why Charlotte is unlikely to land convention hotel site before year end

The timetable for acquiring a site to build a proposed, 1,000-room convention hotel in Charlotte is likely to be pushed back by at least several months as tourism executives focus on higher priorities, a city consultant told CBJ on Monday.

In May, as part of a presentation on investments targeted by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, Ron Kimble, a consultant to the tourism agency, said City Council would be asked to consider options for a convention hotel — a long-discussed project anticipated to include a request for $100 million in taxpayer money to help pay for construction costs.

Kimble told me Monday afternoon that his previous remarks about a possible consideration this summer by council involve buying and preparing a site. Now, he said, it looks like council and the visitors authority will push those conversations to the end of this year or early in 2019.

“We also have had conversations with you, with the community that have been in media regarding the need for a 1,000-room hotel, a Convention Center hotel in this community that would raise all tides and raise all boats in the hospitality industry and bring new bigger conventions to Charlotte,” Kimble, a former deputy city manager and interim city manager, told council on May 14. “Our competition in Nashville, in Indianapolis, in Louisville, in Fort Worth, in Austin are building and partnering on these 1,000-room hotels, and we’ve got to make sure that we stay competitive in the marketplace. There will be an action coming to you sometime this summer regarding the opportunity to partner on an upgrade to the Convention Center that will also involve the possibility of a new 1,000-room hotel adjacent to the Convention Center.”

CBJ reported in May the visitors authority expects to spend as much as $30 million to buy the land and prepare the site for a convention hotel. If council approves public funding for a convention hotel, the money would be repaid using a portion of existing tourism tax revenue.

Kimble told me the convention hotel proposal is likely to take shape next year, following an upcoming six- to seven-month period of settling several more pressing priorities. Those priorities are:

• Contributing $8 million from existing tourism tax money to help pay for a proposed, $84 million hotel and conference center on the UNC Charlotte campus. Council is expected to vote Aug. 27 on possible city investment.

• Determining the parameters of the next round of improvements and renovations at the NFL stadium in uptown. The Carolina Panthers own the 74,000-seat stadium, but city government paid for $75 million of the team’s $177 million, five-year stadium facelift started in 2014. New team owner David Tepper is expected to request additional public money for additional improvements. Kimble has used $75 million as a “placeholder” figure for what the city might agree to pay.

• Winning approval for yet-to-be-negotiated construction contracts to begin work on $110 million worth of convention center renovations previously endorsed by the council.

• Determining the schedule, scope and other details for an estimated $30 million worth of improvements at the city-owned Discovery Place Science museum in uptown Charlotte.

Kimble said the slight shift in timing for buying the hotel site won’t delay the project because a developer wasn’t going to be selected until 2019 anyway.  

Tom Murray, visitors authority CEO, has said the best location for a 1,000-room hotel is near the convention center, located on College Street and bounded by Stonewall and Brevard streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Supporters of a 1,000-room hotel cite the need for event planners to be able to negotiate discounted room rates with minimal hassle and at one location (as opposed to multiple hotels) as keys to landing more conventions. The largest hotel in Charlotte is the 700-room Westin, opened in 2003.

Some council members have questioned public investment in a convention hotel, saying it undercuts private hotel developers and operators. Murray and the visitors authority, citing examples and analysis from similar-sized cities, say a convention hotel would bring in and target a different audience, leaving ample demand for other hotels.

“I’m trying to understand why would that be an opportunity for Charlotte to participate in when we have hotels built every day and they are built through the private sector,” LaWana Mayfield, a council Democrat, told Kimble during his earlier presentation. “So, why, just because of its location and proximity to the convention center, why would we identify hospitality and tourism dollars to build a hotel when we have hotels being built all over this city that benefit the airport and so many others?”

Kimble told Mayfield a convention hotel would allow planners to reserve as many as 700 or 800 rooms years in advance and at more attractive rates. Private operators are less willing to risk blocking off a large number or all of their rooms at prices that might wind up being much lower than the going rate.

Regardless of whether the land was in place this summer, there was no way the 1,000-room hotel would have opened in time for the 2020 Republican National Convention. Cleveland opened a 600-room, $275 million Hilton — paid for by the county — just before the city hosted the 2016 RNC. Charlotte was selected as the 2020 convention site last month.

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First Canopy hotel for Charlotte pegged for SouthPark site

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Another hotel flag new to Charlotte appears to be on track for a SouthPark opening within the next two years.

Canopy by Hilton is expected to open in early 2020 at 6010 Fairview Road, according to a list of upcoming locations on Canopy's website. The 2.8-acre site, which sits behind Fairview Towers, is part of a larger site approved in 2016 to allow development of a mixed-use project, including a new hotel. Wilmington-based Liberty Healthcare Management is developing a senior-care facility, The Barclay at SouthPark, on an adjacent parcel.

Charlotte-based Tara Investments, which specializes in hotel development, lists the Canopy SouthPark hotel in its portfolio, indicating that it's set to break ground this summer. Tara has developed several hotels across the Southeast, with flags including Hyatt Place, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Hampton Inn and Suites. Elsewhere in Charlotte, Tara developed the Homewood Suites in Ballantyne.

Tara is also seeking to build a Canopy hotel in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, as reported by the Nashville Business Journal, a sister publication of the Charlotte Business Journal.

Hilton Worldwide Holdings (NYSE: HLT) and executives with Tara could not be reached by deadline for more information on the SouthPark Canopy hotel.

Hilton last year opened two flags in SouthPark — a 160-room Hilton Garden Inn and a 110-room Homewood Suites developed by Crosland, Allen Tate and Chartwell Hospitality.

Also in SouthPark, an AC Hotel by Marriott is pegged for the corner of Roxborough and Rexford roads, adjacent to the existing Charlotte Marriott SouthPark. A construction permit by Barringer Construction was recently filed for that site, at 2200 Rexford Road. Charlotte's first AC Hotel in uptown is expected to open next month, according to its website.

Canopy is described by Hilton as a boutique, lifestyle flag. The company lists six hotels in operation — in Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Portland, Oregon; Dallas; Atlanta; and Iceland. Another 16 hotels, including the SouthPark location, are listed as opening over the next three years.

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City leaders weigh likely competition for CIAA tournament

Charlotte has the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament for at least two more years, but a decision this month by the conference to field bids from other cities put local leaders on notice they likely face a tougher road to keep it. On Monday, members of City Council discussed expected competition for the tournament — an event that brought $29 million worth of spending and 131,000 visitors to town this year.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the agency that recruits and promotes tourism events, plans to formally notify the CIAA of its forthcoming tournament bid on Tuesday — the deadline for all prospective sites to make their interest known. 

Bids are due Sept. 9. On Dec. 14, the CIAA board will name its host city for the 2021, 2022 and 2023 tournaments.

Beyond hearing about the tourism value and making vows to fight for the event, council members emphasized what they portrayed as Charlotte’s favorable odds for retaining the CIAA.

“I think we lost control of the narrative,” said council district representative Larken Egleston, who attended the meeting Monday but isn’t a committee member. “The narrative became, ‘The CIAA is leaving Charlotte.’ And we all know that’s not what’s happening. There’s a contract that we’ve all known when it was going to expire and they’re doing what any good business would do, which is explore options that still include Charlotte.”

Council’s economic development committee heard a presentation about the benefits of the men’s and women’s tournaments, played in Charlotte every year since 2006, while also mulling anticipated interest from Atlanta, Baltimore, Richmond and Winston-Salem. 

The CIAA is comprised of 13 historically black colleges and universities. Eight are in North Carolina, including Johnson C. Smith in Charlotte.

The current contract between the conference and the city ends in 2020. Local government provides $2 million annually in subsidies to the tournament, including scholarship donations, free use of the convention center and paying the operating costs at Spectrum Center and Bojangles’ Coliseum.

Egleston’s district includes both of the arenas where CIAA tournament games are played.

Committee leader James Mitchell warned of an insurgent campaign among the four member schools located in the northern portion of the conference’s footprint: Bowie State (Maryland), Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) and Virginia State and Virginia Union. Jacqie McWilliams, the CIAA commissioner, recently told Mitchell those schools want to see the basketball tournament played closer to their campuses, Mitchell said Monday.

The councilman said Baltimore could be of particular concern since Caesars Entertainment opened the city’s first casino there in 2014, located near the tourist-friendly Inner Harbor.

Mike Butts, vice president of sales at the visitors authority, reviewed the latest economic impact study for the CIAA, based on 600 surveys of fans who attended the 2018 tournament between Feb. 27 and March 3. Based on those responses, the visitors authority and the CIAA calculated an overall benefit of $50.5 million, including spin-off benefits from visitor spending.

Direct spending — money spent by visitors on hotel rooms, meals, transportation and other expenses — totaled $28.8 million, an increase of 6.7% over 2017. The CIAA tournament is the city’s most lucrative recurring tourism event, according to the visitors authority.

“It’s a great piece of business,” Butts told the committee.

According to the latest survey results, 68.8% of tournament attendees are alums of CIAA schools and 39% live in North Carolina.

Conference executives have pushed for lower hotel room rates for years in Charlotte. Industry analyst STR reported hotel rates decreased in 2017 and again this year, down from peak rates of $269 in 2016. Last year the peak room rate was $255; in 2018, it fell slightly, to $252.

Steady growth in new hotels uptown played a key role in a jump in CIAA tournament occupancy in the center city this year, according to STR figures. In addition, while peak rates declined, hotel premiums during tournament week remained well above typical prices in uptown ($200 to $252 per night versus non-CIAA averages of $184) and countywide ($137 to $164 versus $121).

Two other councilmen who aren’t committee members — Tariq Bokhari and Braxton Winston — also sat in on the economic development meeting. Bokhari, one of two council Republicans (Ed Driggsis the other), and Winston pressed visitors authority business analyst Heath Dillard on the methodology of the impact estimates for the CIAA Tournament.

Winston asked whether allowances are made for business lost during the tournament, such as companies and workers who may change their behavior patterns in uptown because of the crowds. Dillard said the studies don’t account for displaced workers and customers. Winston also hopes to get more detail on which businesses and workers benefit, posing a hypothetical question about whether a restaurant rented out for a private party helps or hurts bartenders, who often rely on customer tips. And so on.

Bokhari said that while he remains confident the CIAA produces sizable net gains for the city, parsing the details and methodology would be valuable, particularly with inevitable debates coming over the benefits of hosting the 2020 Republican National Convention.

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$28M construction loan secured for uptown hotel

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Construction financing has been secured for a new hotel in uptown Charlotte.

A $28 million construction loan has been arranged for a joint venture that's building a 176-room Even Hotel at the Stonewall Station mixed-use development. Georgia developer Mayfair Street Partners and Florida real estate private equity group Sefira Capital are developing the hotel, which is being built using modular construction.

Mark Ebersold at NorthMarq Capital arranged the construction loan on behalf of the borrower through a local bank lender and a New York-based mezzanine lender. NorthMarq is a commercial real estate financial intermediary based in Minneapolis.

The Even Hotel is one of two hotels to be built at Stonewall Station. It will be developed on a 0.4-acre site fronting Caldwell Street while another developer, Alabama-based Yedla Management Co., is spearheading a 180-room Home2 Suites by Hilton hotel next door at the hard corner of Stonewall and Caldwell streets. The hotels represent the last phase of the mixed-use Stonewall Station project, which also includes a 36,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market that opened last month, additional retail space to be leased, Crescent Communities' 458-unit apartment development and a 1,350-space parking deck. Charlotte-based Asana Partners recently acquired most of the retail at Stonewall Station, including Whole Foods, for nearly $34.1 million.

Mayfair acquired the hotel site last summer for $4.5 million. The Even Hotel, Charlotte's first, will include a fitness center, healthy food and beverage options and in-room fitness, true to the flag's wellness focus.

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Convention bid now in question?

While a Charlotte delegation is planning to make the trip to Austin, Texas, later this month where the Republican National Committee is expected to pick the host city for the 2020 Republican National Convention, it's now not clear Charlotte's bid will have the full support of city government.

According to several media reports, some Charlotte City Council members are unsure how they will vote when bid comes before an open council meeting. So far, all council discussions of the bid have been behind closed doors.

Lawana Mayfield is the only council member who has publicly expressed opposition to Charlotte's bid, WSOC-TV reports. The station says liberal activists plan to protest the convention bid at future council meetings.

The Charlotte Observer reports another council member, Justin Harlow, a Democrat representing northwest Charlotte, is concerned about protests. At-large council member Democrat Braxton Winston said in a Facebook video that the decision to host the convention should be about more than economic development.

The Charlotte City Council has a 9-2 Democratic majority. Mayor Vi Lyles announced her support the the RNC 2020 bid in February. “I think we’re going to have an opportunity to once again showcase our great city,” Lyles said at the time.

NCGOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse, who has worked with Charlotte on the bid, said in a statement: "We are proud of the strong partnership between NCGOP, city, county and tourism officials to bring N.C. and Charlotte the 2020 RNC Convention. N.C. should be proud so many can set politics to the side for economic development opportunities."

The GOP hosts its quarterly meetings in Texas starting July 18. 

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UNC Charlotte plans $84M hotel, conference center on campus

Ronald Reagan still lived in the White House when UNC Charlotte first added an on-campus hotel and conference center to its wish list. Now, the reality of such a project could be little more than two years away.

On Monday, UNCC chancellor Phil Dubois and representatives from the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority made a joint pitch to City Council for the long-sought hotel and conference center. Under the terms negotiated by the school and the tourism agency, the hotel and conference center would cost $84 million to build and open in time for the 2020 school year. 

The 4.4-acre site targeted for the project is located at the J.W. Clay Boulevard-UNCC stop on the Blue Line Extension light-rail line, located at the intersection of North Tryon Street. It requires approval from the zoning commission, a process already begun by the university.

Of the $84 million construction cost, a portion of existing tourism taxes would account for $8 million. Council would have to approve the visitors authority’s funding for the hotel. A vote is anticipated at the Aug. 27 council meeting.

All but $2 million of the remaining $76 million would come from the UNC Charlotte Foundation. The foundation would provide its portion by issuing $45 million in bonds, contributing $9 million in cash and raising $20 million through private investment. Marriott would kick in $2 million. 

The hotel will be a 226-room Marriott with a 24,000-square-foot conference center and a 132-space parking deck.

Dubois and visitors authority consultant Ron Kimble told council the conference center is twice the size of what similar-sized hotels usually build. The reason: Anticipated demand for academic conferences and other events driven by the on-campus location.

The visitors authority based its proposed investment in the project on the likelihood of campus conferences and meetings creating demand at nearby hotels in University City, potential bookings for large conventions in uptown because of the easy light-rail proximity carrying convention-goers from the campus hotel to uptown and simulcast connections to UNCC’s center city campus spurring more activity at both sites.

Part of the arrangement would include an ownership share for the visitors authority in the conference center’s ballroom and meeting rooms. Terms of that agreement with the university have yet to be negotiated. UNCC’s foundation would own the property and be responsible for its operations and maintenance.

Others involved in the project include the university’s trustees board, Stormont Hospitality (development manager), Sage Hospitality (hotel operator), Cooper Carry (architect), Balfour Beatty (general contractor), Hilltop Securities (financial advisors) and Jones Lang LaSalle (market analysis).

The $1.2 billion light-rail line connecting UNCC’s main campus and uptown along a nine-mile route opened in March, better connecting the school with the city’s central business district. Backers of the hotel and conference center believe this project will help the tourism sector and UNCC.

Based on estimates and analysis compiled by the university’s advisors and partners, the hotel and conference center would add $9 million combined in local and state taxes while creating 210 jobs. Projections for the hotel in its seventh year of operation include $13 million in room revenue, $5.5 million worth of food and beverage sales and a room-occupancy rate of 73.5%.

“This is a unique new addition to the tourism landscape,” Kimble told me Monday. “It’s a unique hotel that would have conference center on the light-rail line at the front door of the university on North Tryon Street and it would be digitally and electronically connected to the uptown campus building and to the convention center.”

Dubois, the chancellor, told CBJ it’s taken several decades for the conditions at and around UNCC to make the hotel project viable.

Growth in University City, surging enrollment near 30,000 students and the light-rail line opened this year make a more powerful case for building the hotel.

“Our argument is we can make all boats rise by trying to attract to the region, to University City and the campus, organizations that typically don’t come to Charlotte now because we don’t have a campus-based hotel,” Dubois said. “That was the case I’m making and (council will) have a month to think about it.”

If council approves the project by the end of summer, plans call for construction to start in January. The hotel would open in August 2020. 

Also at the council meeting on Monday, members unanimously approved a $20 million police station to be built uptown — a project deferred two weeks ago when some members grew frustrated over existing diversity contracting programs.

Since then, council’s economic development committee has expanded its scrutiny of those programs while also deciding not to hold up the police station any longer. Local firm Edifice landed the $20 million contract on Monday and will build the three-story, 31,000-square-foot station at West 5th and West 6th streets.

Ed Driggs, a council Republican, said that approving the project this week signaled to the business community the city won’t seek to change terms after a deal is negotiated. Previously, some on council hoped to revamp the diversity program in time to apply new standards to the CMPD station.

“We can’t stop everything” until the new standards are finished, Driggs told me.

Council moved ahead with a $20 million project connecting Bojangles’ Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium on Monday, approving Barnhill Contracting as the construction firm. Of that amount, construction accounts for $17 million of the budget with the rest going to design fees, pre-construction and other expenses. Odell Associates is the architect.

Bojangles’-Ovens and the CMPD uptown station have goals of 14% participation for small businesses and 10% for minority-owned firms. Work on the connector building will start later this year and finish in early-2020; the police station has an anticipated opening date of mid-2020.

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Changes Made to Law Requiring Hotels to Display Human Trafficking Posters

As the NC General Assembly enters the final stretch of its 2018 short session, the North Carolina Travel Industry Association went to work (at CAHA’s request) on a modification to a 2017 law requiring hotels, restaurants and welcome centers to display a controversial human trafficking poster in their lobbies. The law required every hotel and restaurant that holds an ABC permit to display the posters in plain view of the public. While CAHA firmly supports any initiative that helps to prevent human trafficking, the signs did not display a message of welcome and hospitality.

NCTIA and CAHA worked with legislative leaders to modify the language in a new bill, Senate Bill 335 (Budget Technical Corrections and Study). The new language now reads: All permittees shall prominently display on the premises in a place that is clearly conspicuous and visible to employees and the public a public awareness sign created and provided by the North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission that contains the National Human Trafficking Resource Hotline information.

Senate Bill 335 passed the Senate on Wednesday and was approved by the House on Thursday. The bill is now on Governor Roy Cooper’s desk and will likely take effect without a veto. Barring a veto, the law will now limit the requirement to back-of-the-house display in plain visible view of employees.

CAHA leadership is currently meeting with the CMPD to gain a better understanding of the human trafficking issue as it relates to our community and how we might further support initiatives that bring an end to human trafficking. More information will be shared at the CAHA General Manager’s meeting on July 16, 2018 at the Ritz Carlton. General Managers can RSVP online at http://www.charlotteareahotels.com/meetings/.

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