Another new uptown hotel is opening in February, featuring a rooftop bar and restaurant

The new, dual-branded hotel under construction atop the EpiCentre plans to open in Feb. 2018, the project’s developers said Wednesday.

The AC Hotel and Residence Inn, both in the 22-story tower, will total 300 rooms. The new hotel will also include a rooftop bar, retail space that’s available for lease, a “super suite” to rent and meeting space.

The hotel is the latest to plan an opening in Charlotte, adding to the city’s rapidly growing inventory of uptown hotel rooms. Next to Romare Bearden Park, the Kimpton is opening a 217-room hotel this fall. Already this year, an Embassy Suites, Springhill Suites and boutique hotel named Ivey’s have opened uptown, adding about 500 rooms to the market.

The rooftop bar will be independently run and open to the public. Hotel developer McKibbon Hospitality is partnering with Asheville chef Peter Pollay on the project. He owns the Posana restaurant, a farm-to-table eatery in downtown Asheville. At McKibbon’s AC Hotel in Asheville, Pollay is a consultant on a rooftop tapas bar called Capella on 9. He’ll be the consulting chef for the Charlotte rooftop restaurant, McKibbon said.

The company also named two hospitality veterans to be managers for the Charlotte hotels. Don Lockhart will serve as general manager for the AC Hotel Charlotte City Center and Maxine Elleby will be market director of sales for the AC Hotel and Residence Inn Charlotte City Center.

“Both Don and Maxine have experience working in the Charlotte hospitality market, and we are confident they will each play a key role in the overall success of the AC Hotel and Residence Inn Charlotte City Center,” said Karl Oates, vice president of lifestyle hotels for McKibbon.

The new hotel tower will be split, with the AC Hotel’s 184 rooms on floors five to 12 and the Residence Inn’s 116 extended-stay suites on floors 14 to 21. A 1,350 square-foot, two-bedroom “super suite” will be on floor 22, adjacent to the bar. Catering to high-rollers, the suite will be available to rent directly from McKibbon.

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CRVA: Tourism a big economic driver for Charlotte region in 2016

Tourism figures released this week by the state show the Charlotte region raked in record dollars last year from spending generated by visitors.

That economic impact is to the tune of $6.7 billion across the Charlotte region — of which the bulk, $5.16 billion — came from visitor spending in Mecklenburg County.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, a public-private partnership, released on Tuesday a county-by-county breakdown of the $22.9 billion spent by domestic travelers across the state in 2016. The report showed that visitor spending increased in 97 of North Carolina's 100 counties, led by Mecklenburg County. Wake County (Raleigh) generated about $2 billion, while Guilford (Greensboro/High Point) Dare (the Outer Banks) and Buncombe County (Asheville) counties brought in $1 billion each, according to the report, which is conducted annually by the U.S. Travel Association on behalf of Visit North Carolina — the state's tourism branch.

In 2015, North Carolina generated $21.9 billion in spending from domestic travelers, a record at the time.

But the tourism figure reported earlier this year for 2016 topped that amount despite the state's controversial House Bill 2, a piece of legislation controversial for provisions deemed discriminatory against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The law, which was replaced this spring, had passed through the N.C. General Assembly in March 2016 and caused myriad sporting events, concerts and other arts performances to pull out of Charlotte and the state.

"Charlotte's visitor economy has strengthened year after year,” Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO Tom Murray said in a statement Wednesday. “2016 presented both challenges and opportunities for our city and state, and we have worked hard to recruit and host impactful events that continuously enhance our city’s quality of life. We wholeheartedly believe that visitor spending enriches our community for not only those who visit here but also for all who call this community home.”

The local tourism agency said visitor spending in the region increased 2.8% from 2015 to 2016. Employment in the sector rose 2.1% year-over-year to 64,490, as payroll increased 3.6% to nearly $2.1 billion.

The CRVA pulled research from the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism for the Charlotte region's counties located in South Carolina.

While Mecklenburg County overwhelmingly captured the most local tourism dollars and had the most employees in the sector (50,770), Cabarrus County ranked second at $433 million and 4,500 tourism-sector employees. Gaston and Iredell counties came in next, with visitor spending of $251.7 million and $247.26 million, respectively. Tourism employment there was nearly matched ranging between 1,910 and 1,950 workers.

Citing data from research firm Longwoods International, the CRVA said that one million more visitors came to the Charlotte region in 2016 from the previous year, totaling 27.8 million. It also used data from travel research firm STR that showed a 3.3% increase in the number of hotel rooms sold in the Charlotte region from 2015 to 2106, totaling 9.6 million and generating $993 million in hotel room revenue.

To determine the impact of visitor spending in North Carolina, the U.S. Travel Association study accounts for sales and tax revenue data, employment figures as well as other industry and economic data.

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Big new hotels are popping up all over uptown. Are there too many?

Developers are rushing to open new hotels uptown and gearing up to start construction on more, betting that even as supply surges there’s enough demand from travelers to fill the hundreds of new rooms.

And long-simmering talk of a new, 1,000-room hotel – considered the gold standard for luring big conventions and mega-events – appears to be gaining momentum. Such a hotel, which could require a potentially controversial public subsidy, has long been a dream for Charlotte boosters.

Developer Johno Harris said this week that he thinks there’s enough room, and enough demand, for such a hotel at the huge new development Lincoln Harris is building on Stonewall Street.

“I think that Charlotte is at a stage in its career that the demand for a large convention hotel is there,” Harris told the Observer. “We’ve got the land. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to do that.”

Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, declined to comment specifically on what he’s hearing about a new convention hotel. But he agreed with Harris’ general premise.

“There has been interest expressed from the market to look at our center city,” said Smith.

Even without a single new mega-hotel, the growth of uptown’s hotel market has been dramatic, with about 1,000 new rooms set to open in a one-year span. That’s more than a 20 percent increase.

Almost 500 new rooms have been added uptown already this year, with the Embassy Suites, Springhill Suites and Ivey’s opening their doors. Another 217 rooms are coming this fall, when the new Kimpton opens next to Romare Bearden Park, and 300 more rooms will follow in early 2018 when the dual branded AC Hotel/Residence Inn by Marriott opens atop the EpiCentre.

After that, developers plan to start construction on another round of new hotels.

The Grand Bohemian, a 254-room luxury hotel on West Trade Street next to the Carillon building, is planning to break ground by the end of the year. A 270-room Intercontinental hotel is part of the Carolina Theatre renovation underway on North Tryon Street, expected to open in 2019. On Stonewall Station, a new Home2 Suites by Hilton that will add about 150 rooms could also start construction later this year.

“These construction booms on the hotel side come in waves,” said Vince Chelena, executive director of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association. “I think developers see they can make some money.”

“We’ve absorbed it pretty well, so far,” he said.

And it’s not just uptown that’s seeing more hotels. A 219-room Tru by Hilton/Hampton Inn & Suites broke ground last week near the airport. A 188-room Marriott hotel is opening next spring near Northlake Mall, and a 270-room Homewood Suites/Hilton Garden Inn is opening next month in SouthPark.

Figures from the Charlotte Regional Visitors Association show the new supply is starting to have an effect on occupancy. As of April, hotels in Mecklenburg County were averaging 70.2 percent occupied, down from 72.6 percent as of the same month last year.

But despite that, the average daily rate travelers paid was actually up slightly from 2016, reaching just over $113 a night. And revenue per available room, a key metric of health in the hotel market, was flat at just below $80 a night. That means that even though the number of rooms is going up, hotels aren’t lowering rates yet, because demand is still strong enough to make up for it.

Vinay Patel, president of SREE Hotels, opened a new Springhill Suites across from the Spectrum Center in April. He said that so far, the hotel is doing better than his company’s projections. And though Patel is keeping a wary eye on the number of new hotels hitting the market, he said business demand remains strong.

“Supply is definitely an issue, a concern, but the corporate transient market is sill pretty robust,” said Patel. “The fundamentals are still OK. Unless something really crazy happens and the fundamentals drop off, we’ll be OK.”

Tom Murray, head of the CRVA, agreed.

“A temporary flattening of occupancy doesn’t seem to be a main concern,” he said. “What we’re also seeing is still strong revenue growth. All in all, I’m comfortable with the market trends.”

A 1,000-room hotel?

Uptown’s hotel market has grown up with the city. From 1,676 rooms in 1985, the number of rooms had nearly tripled to 4,568 by 2015, according to Charlotte Center City Partners. There are now just over 5,000 hotel rooms uptown.

Right now the closest Charlotte has to a 1,000-room hotel is the Westin, with 700 rooms, which opened in 2003. The city invested about $16 million in the project.

Tom Murray, head of the CRVA, said the 150- to 300-room hotels that have made up most of the new supply in Charlotte so far don’t generate new demand, because they don’t have the meeting space and mega-blocks of rooms that help lure large conventions.

“They tend to use the existing demand,” said Murray. “They don’t bring demand generators like large meeting space.”

In recent years, Austin opened a 1,066-room Fairmont hotel, Houston added a 1,000-room Marriott Marquis and Boston announced a 1,000-room Omni Hotel.

“We’re falling behind them in large hotel development. We need another large, convention center hotel in our community,” said Murray.

Depending on the amount of public money involved, such a proposal could be controversial – just look at the dispute over public funding for a Major League Soccer stadium in Charlotte. The CRVA is also seeking about $100 million to renovate and upgrade the Charlotte Convention Center, adding more meeting spaces in addition the large exhibit halls.

Ely Portillo
Charlotte Observer

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Uptown's newest luxury hotel has an opening date this fall

The Kimpton hotel under construction next to Romare Bearden Park is planning to open Nov. 17 to guests, the company said Wednesday.

The 18-story, 217-room hotel is officially called the Kimpton Tryon Park. The hotel is offering specials of up to 20 percent off for some stays through April 30, and has launched its website,

It’s adjacent and connected to the 300 South Tryon office tower being developed next door, where tenants are expected to start moving in this month. The 25-story tower is nearing completion.

The Kimpton Tryon Park will include a ground-floor restaurant, a 1,400 square-foot rooftop bar and event space, and 9,000 square feet of meeting space. It will join a surge of new hotels opening this year uptown, including the Embassy Suites (250 rooms), Springhill Suites (195 rooms) and the boutique Ivey’s Hotel (42 rooms). A dual-branded Residence Inn/AC Hotel by Marriott (300 rooms) is under construction atop the EpiCentre and should open by early 2018.

Ely Portillo
Charlotte Observer 

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CAHA Hires Housekeeping Graduates

We would like to congratulate the new graduates of the CPCC housekeeping certificate program. A graduation ceremony took place today at the CPCC training center and each proud graduate received their certificate from Vince Chelena, CAHA executive director. Then CAHA member HR managers interviewed each graduate. It looks like all will be hired! Congratulations graduates and welcome to the hotel business!

Charlotte convention hotel likely to need hefty taxpayer subsidy

In the spring of 2013, just as a new convention center was about to open in Cleveland, local government and tourism boosters began rallying for a major hotel to boost the project. They had their eyes on recruiting more events, including what became a successful bid to host the Republican National Convention last summer.

By the time the RNC arrived last year, the political convention’s headquarters hotel just happened to be a newly opened 600-room, $275 million Hilton connected to the convention center. Cuyahoga County taxpayers are footing the entire construction bill — and counting on future conventions and other events to make the hotel a financial success.

As the Cleveland example shows, the convention business continues to be a high-stakes affair not just for cities, but often for taxpayers, too. Convention centers almost always require subsidies and are viewed as loss leaders for hotels, restaurants and other tourism industry businesses. Critics contend the investments too often fail to yield a return and, because of national arms races similar to sports stadiums and arenas, require additional taxpayer money to fund renovations and upgrades. And, in many cases, companion hotels.

Charlotte City Council this week heard the beginning of a similar debate likely to gain momentum in the months ahead. In August, council is expected to vote to spend $100 million, using a portion of existing tourism taxes, to pay for renovations and expansion at the 21-year-old convention center. The taxpayer-funded convention center cost $150 million to build.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority listed a convention hotel among its funding priorities for the next six years during a presentation to council. Council member James Mitchell, a Democrat who leads the economic development committee, told CBJ a convention hotel is needed sooner rather than later to take advantage of the convention center upgrades as soon as possible.

Ron Kimble, who is advising the visitors authority as a special assistant to the city manager, listed a convention hotel as a potential target for existing tourism taxes along with more NFL stadium upgrades, an amateur sports complex and the convention center expansion.

So far, reaction has been muted. Mohammad Jenatian, head of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Alliance, a prominent industry trade and lobbying group, told me had heard little about the latest talks to build a convention hotel. Mostly, he said, the emphasis needs to be on any types of projects that can help bring in events and promote visitor spending, a middle-of-the-road statement from a group that usually is entrenched in such negotiations.

A high-profile Charlotte hotel executive who spoke on background said more detail is needed on how much public funding might be involved before determining whether such an investment makes sense. There are roughly 1,000 hotel rooms being added this year in the uptown area and another 2,000 under construction or in the planning stages.

In 2003, The Westin Charlotte opened next to the convention center. The 700-room hotel cost $143 million, including $16 million from the public sector. Tourism executives have said the city needs another major hotel, in the range of 800 rooms or more, so that large-scale conventions can concentrate attendees at one or two hotels rather than being forced to book rooms at smaller, scattered hotels.

“It is a draw if you have a large block of rooms,” Vince Chelena, Charlotte Area Hotel Association executive director, told me. “If meeting planners can utilize one or two hotels, it keeps everybody under a couple of roofs. ... We’ve got a lot of hotels coming online right now — we’re absorbing growth pretty well.”

Occupancy rates have ticked downward in recent months, but average room rates and revenue generated by each available room — two benchmark measures — have held steady.

One of the architects of the Cleveland convention hotel told me this week that it’s all but impossible to lure a convention hotel without providing some public investment.

In Cleveland’s case, the hotel is currently forecast to generate in the range of $43 million annually. Beyond operating expenses such as labor and equipment, and the cost of maintaining and repairing the hotel, $9 million per year will be dedicated to paying back the construction cost, said Jeff Appelbaum, a Cleveland lawyer, who has worked with a number of city and county governments to build sports venues, convention hotels and other projects.

Appelbaum told CBJ it’s possible the county could reap $1 million to $2 million in profit shares if the hotel stays on its present course. Cleveland enjoyed a strong tourism season as the convention hotel opened. In addition to the RNC, the NBA’s Cavaliers won the 2016 championship, an extended playoff run that brought media and other visitors, and baseball's Indians reached the seventh game of the World Series in the fall.

Industry consultant John Kelley cited visitor trends in several cities that have recently opened convention hotels as proof that such investments can generate a return for local tourism.

Appelbaum, the attorney, said one of the first things Charlotte tourism and government executives will need to do is determine what kind of deal they hope to negotiate. In some cases, including Cleveland, the city or county develops the hotel and then hires an operator. Appelbaum estimated Cuyahoga County saved $12 million by not using an outside developer. Other models include hiring a developer to build the hotel and then turning it back over to the public entity to hire an operator or having a developer who owns the hotel and hires an operator.

Subsidies on convention hotels usually add up to 30% of the cost or more, Appelbaum told me. Almost every convention center hotel is publicly owned or subsidized, he added.

Examples abound. In Kansas City, a $310 million, 800-room convention hotel scheduled to open by 2020 includes $35 million in public money as well as free land for the developer. Public money accounts for $74 million, or 31%, of the $240 million, 600-room convention hotel planned in Portland. Nashville taxpayers pumped $128 million into an 800-room Omni convention hotel completed in 2013. And so on.

Risks range from the competition among cities to land conventions and conferences to the volatility of the overall economy. And, of course, convention hotels always require extensive trade-offs, starting with a commitment to block off large chunks of rooms for conventions and meetings — and often at discounted rates.

Baltimore taxpayers paid the entire cost for a $300 million, 750-room Hilton convention hotel that opened in 2008. Since then, according to sister paper Baltimore Business Journal, the city-owned hotel has lost $80 million. The losses prompted the head of the Baltimore council to recommend selling the hotel two years ago, but, as of now, it is still owned by local government.


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City eyes publicly funded convention hotel

For years, rumors have popped up about whether and when the time might be right to build a convention center hotel in the range of 800 to 1,000 rooms. On Wednesday, Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell, who leads the economic development committee, told CBJ the time is now.

During an interview about prospects for the city to help pay for a Major League Soccer stadium— an issue that resurfaced on council’s agenda on Monday— Mitchell explained the need for a convention hotel as one of several reasons the city is reducing its possible investment in the stadium by $14 million.

Obviously, $14 million isn’t going to build a hotel. Mitchell pointed to possible tourism tax funding for a hotel, an amateur sports complex and other projects as the basis for trimming the soccer proposal to $30 million from $43.75 million. In January, council was asked to vote on committing $43.75 million for soccer, but instead backed away altogether, citing other priorities and an upcoming budget negotiation.

A different portion of tourism tax money would be used for a convention center hotel than the one eyed for an MLS stadium.

The budget passed this month in a unanimous vote, leading to the resurrection of the soccer talks. A convention center hotel proposal is sure to stir debate about how best to use taxpayer money as well as the risk of spending additional money on the convention industry, a loss leader in just about every city in the nation.

“We have to upgrade now,” Mitchell said of considering a hotel. In large measure, he said, beginning discussions this summer about a hotel that would include public funding makes sense because council is expected to approve a proposed $100 million upgrade to the convention center in August. “We need a convention center hotel to separate us” from similar-sized cities, Mitchell added.

His sentiments dovetail with a presentation on hospitality projects delivered to council by Ron Kimble, a former city manager who now is a special assistant to the city manager. As part of a detailed explanation of the four sources of tourism tax revenue, and how each of those sources can be used, Kimble listed “Convention Center hotel partnerships” among target projects over the next six years.

An internal study by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority two years ago found that a lack of meeting space, a need for updating the look of the convention center and a lack of large-scale hotels are the largest hurdles for recruiting events against rivals such as Tampa, Nashville, Baltimore and Indianapolis.

Mitchell didn’t disclose any potential funding scenarios for a convention center hotel beyond saying it could, and likely would, include public money.

Cities including Indianapolis, Dallas and Cleveland have used tax money to help pay for similar projects aimed at boosting convention bookings. A 1,000-room JW Marriott in Indianapolis next to the convention centeropened in 2011. The $450 million project included $60 million from local government.

Also in 2011, Dallas opened a 1,000-room Omni hotel tied to its convention center. Public money paid the $500 million tab for the city-owned hotel. And last summer, as Cleveland hosted the Republican National Convention, a 600-room Hilton convention hotel opened. It cost $276 million, with Cuyahoga County paying the construction tab. The county owns the hotel.

Adam Jones, a convention and meetings expert at consultant PwC, said that while the industry has rebounded from the recession, growth across the country is nominal because of a heightened awareness of higher travel costs, among other factors. Cities are also focusing more on finding ways to make their destinations unique and more convenient. The convention center renovations project here includes improved pedestrian access to a nearby development on Stonewall Street that will be anchored by a Whole Foods grocery store and an emphasis on making it as easy as possible for convention-goers to reach uptown attractions on foot.

The largest uptown hotel, the 700-room Westin Charlotte, opened in 2003. City funding accounted for $16 million of the $143 million project cost. In return, the city received 500 spaces in the adjacent parking deck as well as access to use conference rooms in the hotel.

According to the 2016 visitors authority annual report, the convention center hosted 522 events last year, most of them for local groups and meetings. Of that total, 31 events were conventions and trade shows — the ones that bring in regional and national attendees and generate tourism spending through hotel room bookings and other visitor spending. Like most cities, Charlotte’s tourism and convention industry is heavily subsidized through taxes on hotel rooms, restaurant meals and rental cars, money used to help pay for marketing campaigns, offset operating losses and pay back construction and maintenance costs on various arenas, museums and theaters.

The visitors authority reported revenue of $15.2 million for the convention center last year, a figure 8% higher than budget forecasts, but down 12% from revenue of $17.2 million in fiscal year 2015.

Mohammad Jenatian, head of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Alliance, an industry trade group, said he hasn’t been involved in preliminary talks about a convention hotel. In general, he said, “Our position has always been that we need to invest dollars in demand-generators” to help tourism expand.

Occupancy rates, room revenue and demand for hotels in Charlotte all made gains last year, according to various industry measurements and studies. This year, 1,000 new hotel rooms will be added uptown and 2,000 are under construction or in the planning stages.

An industry study by consulting firm PwC found that the number of conventions, group conferences and trade events nationwide stayed steady from 2009 to 2012 at 1.8 million. During that period, attendees increased to 225 million from 205 million and direct spending from those events grew to $280 billion from $263 billion.

Erik Spanberg
Charlotte Business Journal

'Brunch bill' for Sunday morning alcohol sales is headed to the governor

RALEIGH-- The “brunch bill” to allow alcohol sales at 10 a.m. on Sundays – instead of noon – passed a final Senate vote on Wednesday night and now heads to Gov. Roy Cooper, who’s expected to sign it.

The final vote was 39-7, an easy approval despite objections from some conservative legislators who worried it could affect church services and lead to more drunken-driving accidents. There was no debate on the bill Wednesday night.

The bill would allow restaurants to begin serving alcoholic beverages at 10 a.m. on Sundays, a major priority for the restaurant and hotel industry. Retail stores could also begin selling alcohol at 10 a.m. Local governments would have to agree to the earlier hours.

The N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association praised the bill’s passage in a news release. “This is an exciting new option for the hospitality industry,” CEO Lynn Minges said. “North Carolina joins 47 other states that allow some form of early Sunday sales of alcohol. The passage of SB 155 will help restaurants to better meet the needs of their guests, particularly where tourism drives business or where local residents demand more choices.”

The bill also includes a provision allowing craft distilleries to sell up to five bottles of their liquor to visitors who tour their facility, up from one bottle under current law. Distilleries could also offer quarter-ounce samples at festivals, trade shows and other events, if they obtain a permit.

A provision allowing distilleries to ship their products to consumers in other states was removed from the final version of the bill in the House.

Other provisions include looser regulations on craft breweries. The new version of the bill would allow breweries located on farms to sell their beer even if they’re located in a dry county where alcohol sales aren’t allowed outside city limits – as long as the local government agrees to issue a permit.

The bill also would allow the sale of “crowlers,” which are 32-ounce sealed cans of beer. It would allow home brewers of beer and wine to offer tastings at home brewing events. And it would allow breweries to offer “guest taps” of beverages produced elsewhere – something that many already do under an unclear law.

The majority of the bill, including the Sunday morning alcohol sales, would take effect as soon as the governor signs it.

Colin Campbell
The News & Observer

New details out on Kimpton's uptown hotel (RENDERING)

San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants has unveiled the name of its 18-story hotel under construction in uptown Charlotte: Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel.

The 217-room hotel at Third and Church streets — part of a larger mixed-use development that includes a 630,000-square-foot office tower by The Spectrum Cos. and Barings — is on track for an October opening, according to the company. Kimpton Tryon Park will include a ground-floor restaurant, more than 9,000 square feet of meeting and event space (including a 4,000-square-foot ballroom), and a 1,100-square-foot rooftop bar.

Robert Hannigan, who joined Kimpton in 2007, has been appointed as Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel's general manager. Hannigan was previously general manager at Kimpton Hotel Monaco Portland, a 220-room hotel in Portland, Ore.

“I’m tremendously excited about the opportunity to open Kimpton’s first hotel in Charlotte,” Hannigan said in a statement. “Our company is proud to bring its pioneering approach to boutique hospitality to the Queen City, and we can’t wait to introduce Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel to the community this fall."

Ashley Fahey
Charlotte Business Journal

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CIAA Releases Impact Numbers

Estimated economic benefit from staging the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament dipped this year by $10 million, or 17%, according to figures released by the conference Monday afternoon.

The men’s and women’s basketball tournament generated $47.4 million and brought in an estimated 103,000 to 138,000 visitors, the CIAA said. In 2016, the tournament added $57.4 million worth of spending and spin-off benefits to the local economy and $31.5 million in direct spending on meals, hotel rooms and other expenses. Direct spending for 2017 was $27 million, or 14% below the previous year.

Economic impact for this year was the fourth-highest since the CIAA tournament came to Charlotte in 2006, according to the conference. Local government and agencies contribute $2 million annually to the CIAA tournament through scholarship donations, use of city-owned venues and other in-kind donations.

The CIAA split between venues for the first time in 2017, playing the first part of the tournament at 8,600-seat Bojangles’ Coliseum and ending in the 19,000-seat Spectrum Center. No other annual tourism event in Charlotte has a larger impact than the CIAA, executives at the visitors authority have said.

Next year, the tournament runs Feb. 27 through March 3. The conference, comprised of 12 historically black colleges and universities, including Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, is under contract with the city to play the tournament here through 2020.

City Council is examining how to increase attendance and also exploring whether and how to cordon off larger areas of uptown for CIAA-sanctioned events while making changes to permit policies for pop-up events. The latter discussion stems from concerns over shootings and altercations each of the past four years during tournament week. In each case, the incidents occurred near CIAA sites, but not at conference-sanctioned events.

Some on council asked CIAA and tourism executives after the 2017 event to consider putting the week-long tournament at Spectrum Center, the NBA area uptown, and scrapping the games at Bojangles’, the format used from 2006 through 2016. Tom Murray, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, told the city economic development committee the current split arrangement is better because it saves money — the NBA arena costs more to operate — and because it gives the NBA Charlotte Hornets greater schedule flexibility.

Erik Spanberg
Charlotte Business Journal

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Marriott Center City Sold

The newly renovated Charlotte Marriott City Center is changing hands in an acquisition by Carey Watermark Investors 2 Inc. The uptown hotel has been touted as a "hotel idea incubator" or "live beta hotel" — the first of its kind when renovations were unveiled in October — that allows customers to test new product and service concepts first-hand all while giving feedback in real-time. A news release on the property sale this morning offers few details on the deal.

Jen Wilson
Charlotte Business Journal

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Charlotte airport wants full-service hotel where the control tower now stands

Charlotte Douglas International Airport said Monday it expects to build a full-service hotel on the site of the control tower early next decade, when the Federal Aviation Administration abandons the site for a new, taller tower in 2020.

Stuart Hair, the airport’s economic affairs manager, said “multiple developers are interested” in building an on-site hotel, a first for the airport. Hair said the airport envisions landing a nationally known brand such as the Intercontinental, which would allow businesses and organizations to hold small conferences at CLT without leaving airport property.

The existing control tower is just north of the new hourly parking deck that’s adjacent to the terminal.

The airport also is planning a new automated people mover that would carry people from the hourly parking deck to Wilkinson Boulevard, where it might feed into a new light-rail line that the Charlotte Area Transit System would like to build. The people mover would likely run through the hotel, Hair said.

The discussion was part of the airport’s presentation to City Council about a consultant’s new long-term plan for 25 square-miles surrounding the airport.

Charlotte Douglas wants to control, or at least guide, how the area grows. The airport envisions an area along Wilkinson Boulevard as a mixed-use village called “CLT Front Door.” That would have a mix of limited-service hotels, retail and office space.

The area west of Interstate 485 is slated for light industry, such as warehouses. There also would be retail and hotels, which would tie in with the River District, a massive new development of homes, offices and retail planned by Lincoln Harris.

The transportation network south of the airport would be overhauled. West Boulevard would be moved to the south to make way for a planned fourth parallel runway. The airport also envisions a new interchange at Interstate 485 and West Boulevard.

In terms of development, the area south of the airport is slated for more manufacturing and a possible expansion of the Norfolk Southern intermodal yard.

Hair said private developers have asked about the airport building new warehouses and offices and then leasing the space back to them.

“We have also had interest in us selling the land,” he said.

The airport doesn’t have a timeline as to when the nearby land will be developed. In the meantime, Charlotte Douglas is moving forward with several projects on airport property: the new fourth parallel runway, a new concourse on the site of the old rental-car parking lots, a widened terminal roadway and a larger ticketing area in the terminal.

Aviation director Brent Cagle also addressed Steele Creek Presbyterian Church, one of Mecklenburg’s oldest churches, which is increasingly affected by airport noise and development.

The church’s congregation voted Sunday to explore a merger with another Presbyterian church. That could begin the process of abandoning the site that has been its home for 257 years.

Cagle told council members the airport’s master plan does not call for the church to be bought and demolished.

He said the airport would buy the church if it’s for sale, but not the cemetery. But he said the airport is not pressuring the church.

“We will not force them out,” Cagle said.

Steve Harrison
Charlotte Observer

'Grill Bill' passes, will benefit N.C. hotels and restaurants

The North Carolina Senate approved S.B. 24, the "Grill Bill" on Thursday, opening the patio doors for hotels and restaurants to use outdoor grills for food preparation.

According to the language of the bill, the outdoor grill must have a cooking surface made of stainless steel or cast iron and must be stationed on a concrete or asphalt foundation. It must be supervised by an employee of the establishment and meet all sanitation requirements.

In addition, raw meats must be prepped indoors and handled only with utensils on the grill.

“The North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association applauds the North Carolina Senate’s approval of S.B. 24," said association President and CEO Lynn Minges following the vote. "NCRLA has strongly supported this bill, as it will be very beneficial to food service establishments. It will allow the state’s restaurants and hotels to use outdoor grills to better serve their patrons, especially during the approaching summer months."

Although an earlier version of the bill called for an Oct. 1, 2017 effective date, the latest version becomes effectively immediately as soon as the governor signs it — perhaps just in time for Memorial Day.

The bill was sponsored by Sens. Tom McInnis (R-Richmond), Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg) and Jim Davis(R-Macon) and backed by House Speaker Tim Moore(R-Cleveland).

Rebecca Troyer
Triad Business Journal

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Omni to invest $26M in renovating uptown hotel

The uptown Charlotte Omni Hotel will soon undergo $26 million in renovations.

The Omni, at the intersection of South College and East Trade streets, will be redesigned as a "contemporary lifestyle destination" that pays homage to Charlotte's history as a gold-mining center.

The hotel's 374 rooms and suites will be updated to include built-in custom casegoods, a coffee bar built into the countertops, an oversized sofa and redesigned bathrooms with new vanities and showers. Additionally, the rooms will have a new color palette and artwork.

The hotel lobby will receive new flooring, burnished metal wall finishes, a new guest registration, and new furniture and fixtures.

The rooftop pool deck at the Omni will be overhauled — about 3,000 square feet of space will be added, including a new bar and grill and large television screens. The front exterior wall of the hotel will be redesigned to allow more light into the building, with a glass exterior, linear panels on the ceiling and a reflective metal wall. Throughout the hotel, fabrics and finishes with gold and silver tones will be incorporated.

Trade Restaurant & Bar will be revamped to include a larger bar opening onto the lobby, in addition to new seating, tables, carpet and lighting. A menu with small bites and street-food favorites will be developed, according to Omni Hotels & Resorts. And the exclusive club lounge on the 14th floor has been updated with new counter bars, where breakfast, cocktails and appetizers for guests will be served.

Moncur Design Associates and CT+C Design Studio are spearheading the renovations.

"Once the transformation is complete, the Omni Charlotte Hotel will be a one-of-a-kind destination for leisure and business travelers, as well as meeting attendees,” said David Palumbo, general manager for the hotel, in a statement. “The property will feature a sleek new exterior, modern lobby experience, cosmopolitan guest rooms and suites, and an exclusive rooftop pool deck and bar space that will soon become the city’s go-to urban oasis.”

The renovations are underway now and are expected to be finished by December of this year, according to an Omni spokesman.

Ashley Fahey, Charlotte Business Journal

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Here's the latest on uptown Charlotte's newest luxury hotel

The hotel boom in uptown isn’t going to be finished when the latest round of five new hotels is open later this year or early next year: More luxury hotels are set to follow.

The latest, a Grand Bohemian planned by The Kessler Collection, is moving forward, documents filed recently with the city of Charlotte show. The hotel, on a half-acre site next to the Carrillon building on West Trade Street, was originally planned to start construction in late 2016.

Pre-construction documents filed with the city show the hotel is planned to total 254 rooms. That’s the first concrete confirmation of the hotel’s approximate size from Florida-based Kessler, which has been tight-lipped about the project. A spokeswoman declined to provide further details.

Kessler is getting ready to start the site work on the corner lot, the documents show, including the grading, drainage and other work that’s necessary before vertical construction can begin. A boutique hotel operator with 10 luxury properties in cities such as Asheville, Charleston and Savannah, the Grand Bohemian will join the InterContinental (300 rooms, in a tower planned to sit atop the Carolina Theatre building, opening in 2019) as the newest ultra-high-end hotel uptown.

Three hotels have opened uptown within the past month: A Springhill Suites (195 rooms), Embassy Suites (250 rooms) and Ivey’s (42 rooms). Next up: The Kimpton, next to Romare Bearden Park (217 rooms, opening in October) and the AC Hotel/Residence Inn, atop the EpiCentre (300 rooms, opening in late 2017 or early 2018).

Ely Portillo

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Not a done deal, but NBA expects to play All-Star Game in CLT

The NBA all but confirmed on Friday the league will award the 2019 All-Star Game to the Charlotte Hornets and the Spectrum Center. Commissioner Adam Silver said the league will require all involved in the All-Star events in North Carolina to make clear commitments to diversity and ensuring inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Last summer, the NBA became the first major sports league or conference to remove an event from North Carolina because of House Bill 2. That law, passed in March 2016, required public restroom use in government buildings on the basis of birth gender and prevented cities and towns from adding LGBT characteristics to non-discrimination policies.

Charlotte was originally scheduled to host the All-Star Game in February 2017. Instead, it went to New Orleans. The weekend of exhibitions, dunk and 3-point contests and other events is televised in more than 200 countries and is expected to generate $60 million worth of visitor spending.

The state legislature passed a compromise law last week that repealed HB2 but drew criticism from LGBT advocates and others because it places a three-year moratorium on LGBT ordinances. The bathroom provision was removed.

“This is not an easy decision,” Silver said. “The most recent change in the law does not mean the fundamental issues are resolved. But, after considering all points of view, we concluded that Charlotte will be eligible to host the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.”

Silver made his remarks during a press conference after NBA owners concluded the spring board of governors meetings in New York.

Open access and anti-discrimination policies will need to be verified and guaranteed before the NBA officially puts the game in Charlotte in February 2019. Venues, hotels and other sites around Charlotte must show they will be inclusive, the commissioner added, saying those issues need to be resolved within the next month.

“It’s not a done deal yet,” Silver said. “What it means is we now need to go back to Charlotte and ensure that, one, all of our typical requirements are satisfied, so that process hasn’t begun yet. And then, in addition, we’re going to develop an anti-discrimination policy and then ask all of our participating partners to sign on to that policy. If those requirements are met, it’s our expectation the All-Star festivities will be there for 2019.”

The NCAA and the ACC have made similar moves since HB2 was repealed, pledging to bring back events and honor previous commitments threatened by the law. The NCAA, earlier this week, offered similarly dismayed opinions about the repeal and its failure to do more to protect LGBT people.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and advocacy groups such as Human Rights Campaign and Equality NC, as well as corporations including Salesforce and Levi’s, have blasted the replacement law as a “false repeal.”

Part of the reason for the league’s decision stems from the NBA’s extensive presence and history in North Carolina. The original Charlotte Hornets joined the league in 1988 and Greensboro is now home to an NBA Developmental League team.

“Twenty-nine NBA teams travel every year to play in Charlotte, stay in its hotels and eat in its restaurants,” Silver said. “We believe that an All-Star Game in Charlotte could be a powerful way to display our values of equality and inclusion. And by engaging even more deeply in North Carolina, we can be part of a larger, national effort toward securing LGBT equality. Ultimately, I believe changing attitudes and not just laws is what will lead to that result.”

Erik Spanberg
Senior Staff Writer
Charlotte Business Journal

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NCAA: North Carolina now eligible to host events after HB2 repeal

The state of North Carolina is once again eligible to host NCAA championships, the governing body of collegiate sports said Tuesday morning in a statement.

The NCAA had pulled its championships at neutral sites out of North Carolina after House Bill 2 was passed in 2016. That move also threatened further championships in the state. Later this month, the NCAA will announce championship sites through 2022, and North Carolina cities such as Charlotte, Raleigh and Cary are heavily involved in pursuing those games.

With the NCAA deadline approaching, the North Carolina General Assembly repealed HB2 with a compromise and Gov. Roy Cooper signed the measure. On Tuesday, the NCAA raised some concerns about that deal but said it would still consider the state for sites.

“As with most compromises, this new law is far from perfect,” the NCAA said in a statement from its Board of Governors. “The NCAA did not lobby for any specific change in the law. The Board of Governors, however, was hopeful that the state would fully repeal HB2 in order to allow the host communities to ensure a safe, healthy, discrimination-free atmosphere for the championship sites.

“While the new law meets the minimal NCAA requirements, the board remains concerned that some may perceive North Carolina’s moratorium against affording opportunities for communities to extend basic civil rights as a signal that discriminatory behavior is permitted and acceptable, which is inconsistent with the NCAA Bylaws.

“However, we recognize the quality championships hosted by the people of North Carolina in years before HB2. And this new law restores the state to that legal landscape: a landscape similar to other jurisdictions presently hosting NCAA championships.”

The NCAA move against North Carolina meant, for example, that NCAA men’s basketball games were moved from Greensboro to Greenville, South Carolina.

The announcement comes the morning after UNC Chapel Hill won the NCAA men's title in a championship win over Gonzaga.

Dane Huffman
Managing Editor
Triangle Business Journal

Uptown's got three new hotels, and the latest just opened

The opening wave of the surge of new hotels in uptown has begun, with the Springhill Suites across from Spectrum Center becoming the latest property to add rooms to the Charlotte market.

The 195-room hotel, a Marriott franchise, opened for business Monday. It was developed by SREE Hotels, also the owner and operator. The hotel – a skinny tower built on a triangular patch of land next to the Blue Line light rail – features a 3,000 square-foot rooftop space that can accommodate functions with up to 250 people.

“As a brand opening a new hotel every 10 days on average, we are delighted that the SpringHill Suites Charlotte Uptown is the latest addition to our growing number of properties across the United States and Canada,” said Callette Nielsen, vice president and global brand manager for SpringHill Suites, in a statement.

The hotel is one of five opening uptown in the coming year. They include the Embassy Suites, across from the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a 250-room hotel that opened in March and Ivey’s, a 42-room boutique hotel opening later this week in what was once a department store on North Tryon Street.

Still to come: The Kimpton, next to Romare Bearden Park (217 rooms, opening in October) and the AC Hotel/Residence Inn, atop the EpiCentre (300 rooms, opening in late 2017 or early 2018).

That’s not it, however: A Grand Bohemian hotel is planned next to the Carillon building, and a pair of new hotels are on the drawing board at the Crescent Stonewall Station development on Stonewall Street. And InterContinental is developing a 20-story hotel with 250 rooms atop the Foundation for the Carolinas-owned Carolina Theatre.

Ely Portillo

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General Assembly Repeals 'HB2'

The General Assembly voted on Thursday to repeal the controversial statewide bathroom bill. The bill is expected to be signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper.
HB142, a bill that was a licensure bill but gutted and transformed into an HB2 repeal bill for expedience in response to a NCAA final deadline issued Monday. The vote on Thursday came after 48 hours of intense negotiations between Governor Cooper, Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake).