For years, Charlotte tourism leaders have worked with city government to build an indoor sports complex to help recruit amateur tournaments and competitions — and bring in young athletes and their families from far-flung locales to spend money on hotel rooms, restaurant meals and so on. To date, those plans have fizzled.
On Monday, that problem could be at least partially solved — or improved, anyway. City Council expects to vote on a request for $8 million to help pay for an $87 million hotel and conference center at UNC Charlotte, with the government portion coming from existing tourism taxes. If approved, the 226-room Marriott would open in time for the 2020 school year.
To sweeten the deal initially presented to council in June, UNCC has agreed to add five rent-free dates per year for its various on-campus sports venues, such as the 9,000-seat basketball arena and the 15,000-seat football stadium.
“... UNC Charlotte has begun in earnest a review of athletic and campus facilities that could assist the CRVA in securing new conventions and competitions,” Philip Dubois, the school chancellor, noted in a July 17 letter to Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones and Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO Tom Murray. “The University will continue to explore the availability of venues that could be offered to the CRVA for the purpose of seeking visitor-generating events that require such facilities.”
Ron Kimble, a consultant on tourism projects for the city and the visitors authority, told CBJ that the rent-free use of athletic venues and a companion commitment to grant the city access to a block of up to 100 rooms for major conventions in uptown were negotiated in recent weeks as the two sides worked to enhance the initial terms. Those provisions would be in addition to the city owning the 24,000-square-foot conference center at the hotel and leasing it back to the Foundation of UNC Charlotte, the developer of the project.
Dubois and others at UNCC want to build the hotel and conference center to bring in more academic and research symposia, a goal that would be assisted by being able to host those events near campus and with the capability of housing any visiting professors, experts and attendees.
And, because the proposed 4.4-acre site is at the just-opened light-rail line stop at J.W. Clay Boulevard and North Tryon Street, the conference center and hotel can also be used for uptown events because of the access provided to the center city on the train. Tourism executives tout that connection as a way for visitors attending uptown conventions and other events to find more attractive room rates by staying beyond the center city but with minimal inconvenience since the light-rail line provides affordable and convenient travel back and forth.
The UNCC foundation will pay the remaining costs other than $2 million from Marriott. City money will be used only to build the conference center, not hotel rooms. Actual construction costs are $52.5 million: $8 million for the conference center, all paid by the city, and $44.5 million for the hotel. A 132-space parking deck is also planned for the site.
For all of the construction — the privately funded hotel and publicly financed conference center — there is a guaranteed vendor spending range of 10% to 15% for small businesses and for minority-owned firms. Kimble, the consultant, said that is different from standard agreements, which usually apply only to the public portion of a project.
Council will vote on both a rezoning request to build the hotel on the foundation-owned land and the $8 million in tourism tax money for the conference center.
According to city estimates, the hotel and conference center will add $9 million in combined city, county and state tax revenue during the first five years it’s open. The city’s payments would be divided in equal halves of $4 million with the first installment in July 2019 and the second after the project opens. UNCC would lease the conference center for 30 years, plus up to two, 10-year extensions and the option to buy the conference center at market rates after year 30.
Kimble said the use of UNCC’s athletic fields and arena would not erase the need for a city-backed indoor sports center as well as baseball and track and field complexes, but it would enhance the city’s amateur sports offerings in the interim. The visitors authority is also in line to receive rent-free dates as part of a county-led $35 million makeover of Memorial Stadium near uptown. That renovation includes a city contribution of as much as $3 million for an artificial turf field.