Charlotte city government hopes to stem CIAA incidents

City leaders on Thursday continued grappling with isolated but highly publicized shootings during the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament week — and again endorsed the idea of new ordinances and permitting rules to better ascertain potential trouble areas.

In each of the past four years, shootings and fights during the annual CIAA tournament week have sparked questions about whether the city should keep hosting the event. The CIAA is made up of 12 historically black colleges and universities, including Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte.

The tournament runs Feb. 27 through March 3 next year. Spectrum Center, Bojangles’ Coliseum and the convention center, all city-owned buildings, host the tournament games and fan festival. Charlotte has been home to the conference basketball tournament since 2006. The CIAA stands as the city’s most lucrative annual tourism event and is under contract to be played here through 2020.

In February, 100 shots were fired uptown near the Spectrum Center just before the CIAA championship game started. No one was injured. Police arrested three men for shooting at a hotel uptown in the early-morning hours following the end of the tournament in 2016. No one was hurt during that incident, either.

Injuries from shootings and stabbings at CIAA-themed events and parties in earlier years also raised questions about tournament safety.

During a City Council committee meeting on Thursday, city staff outlined possible solutions to stem the isolated violence, including a requirement for property owners to be held liable for unsanctioned pop-up parties and concerts around large events, including the CIAA tournament. The current policy is that promoters must secure permits and, since many promoters are based elsewhere, it’s hard to gain much cooperation if something goes wrong, city staffers said.

Shifting responsibility to property owners for so-called pop-up events through permitting requirements and other rules would likely help reduce crime risks.

Danny Pleasant, an assistant city manager, told the committee, “The more we know in advance, the more prepared we can be.”

Council members, tourism executives and the CIAA have said the violence has created a misperception about the tournament. All of the shootings and altercations occurred at parties, concerts and locations beyond the conference’s control. Julie Eiselt, a Democrat who also leads the community safety committee, said, “Unfortunately, scary things have happened at the time of the CIAA. The CIAA (tournament) is separate from that.”

There is no defined timetable for crafting an ordinance or other rules, but the city hopes to have something in place before the 2018 CIAA Tournament. The full council would have to approve any new ordinances.

Designated event zones that could be controlled by the CIAA and other organizers of large-scale tournaments, parades and festivals in Charlotte might also be part of the solution, Pleasant said Thursday.

City attorney Bob Hagemann and Pleasant heard committee members’ questions and concerns — several called for any new rules to avoid infringing on football tailgate parties, for example — and said they are continuing to research language and guidelines.

Carlenia Ivory, a Democrat, and Ed Driggs, a Republican, said the new policies under discussion are appropriate and could help, but also fall short of a larger problem of violence plaguing the city.

There have been 72 homicides to date in 2017, compared with 68 last year and 60 in 2015.

“I have a problem with us paying all this money to investigate four shootings versus what’s happening with the other 70,” Ivory said.

Driggs urged his colleagues “not to avoid some of the really thorny questions that do tie to race relations” and said “the real challenge ... is to not let it get politicized.” 

Driggs told me in a later interview that part of his concern is that when violence occurs around the tournament, the perception of public safety risk can infringe on the larger policy discussion of how to address economic inequality, affordable housing and social justice.

CIAA fans spent $27 million this year on hotel rooms, meals and other expenses during the tournament in Charlotte, according to research figures provided by the conference. That represented a decline of 14% from 2016.

Hagemann told the committee Thursday that violent incidents occurring at carnivals in the Charlotte area led council to pass an ordinance in 2004 mandating promoters hire CMPD or private security to improve safety. Soon after, carnival promoters stopped coming to Charlotte, Hagemann said.

Erik Spanberg
Charlotte Business Journal

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