The votes are in, and the Democratic National Committee has chosen Charlotte as the venue for its 2012 Democratic National Convention. The massive event, which will be the party’s first convention held in the South since 1988, will officially launch President Obama’s reelection campaign when it kicks off on Labor Day.
Apart from sporting events such as the Olympics and the Super Bowl, there are few events that can rival the sheer scope and national and international media reach of a presidential candidate nominating convention. The DNC is expected to bring upwards of 45,000 people and $150 million to $200 million to the area, plus untold worldwide exposure spotlighting the Queen City as a top-tier destination. The event will be one of the largest Charlotte has ever hosted, and will utilize more hotel rooms—15,000 on peak—than any welcomed by the city in the past.
Visit Charlotte is confident that the convention will bring widespread attention to the city’s many attributes and encourage planners—for larger events than ever before—to cast their ballots in favor of Charlotte.
“The 2012 DNC gives us the opportunity to showcase Charlotte and its assets on an international stage,” says Bill McMillan, senior director of sales at Visit Charlotte. “More than 30,000 delegates and 15,000 members of the media will set their sights on the Queen City, and we’re ready to wow them at our hotels, event venues and major meeting facilities. Hosting an event of this magnitude and prestige shows that Charlotte can confidently handle citywide events with ease.”
Although Charlotte seemed an unlikely candidate early in the selection process, eventually beating out St. Louis, Cleveland and Minneapolis, North Carolina’s history as a narrow win for Obama in 2008 makes it attractive as a battleground state for reaching out to the South. Michelle Obama also cited the city’s Southern charm and hospitality, hard-working character and great barbecue as persuasive factors in an email to Democratic supporters announcing the selection. No doubt the committee also took note of Charlotte’s safe, clean, walkable streets and recent spate of development.
“There have been some tremendous additions to Charlotte’s cityscape in recent years, ranging from outdoor adventure venues offering meeting capabilities like the U.S. National Whitewater Center to cultural facilities like the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, which houses masterpieces by Warhol, Picasso and more,” McMillan says. “All of these developments add up to versatility, providing planners with dynamic options to fit any group’s needs. Creative events at venues like the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Levine Center for the Arts demonstrate the strong partnerships and possibilities our community holds.”
The DNC will utilize more than 140 area hotels. Charlotte’s metropolitan hotel inventory totals more than 32,000 rooms, with more than 4,000 of these within walking distance of the Charlotte Convention Center. A few of the largest meeting hotels include the 700-room Westin Charlotte, with 24 meeting rooms; the 434-room Charlotte Marriott City Center, with 12 meeting rooms; the 407-room Hilton Charlotte Center City, with more than 30,000 square feet of meeting space; and the 374-room Omni Charlotte, with 19 meeting rooms.
The 850,000-square-foot Charlotte Convention Center boasts 280,000 square feet of exhibit space and 90,000 square feet of meeting space, plus the 40,000-square-foot Crown Ballroom, added in 2010.
Kickoff ceremonies for the DNC will be held at Time Warner Cable Arena, which can seat more than 20,000. Obama will officially accept his party’s nomination at the 73,778-seat Bank of America Stadium.
Political and media groups are jockeying for their own event space at Charlotte’s many off-site sports and outdoor activity venues. The 150,000-square-foot NASCAR Hall of Fame, a top attraction since its opening in 2010, can welcome groups as large as 2,500 with an exciting backdrop of racing artifacts. The facility connects to the convention center and is adjacent to the Crown Ballroom. U.S. National Whitewater Center can welcome groups of several thousand in its unique outdoor setting. South of the city center, Carowinds theme park can accommodate several thousand people in its private picnic pavilions.
Charlotte is also home to many fine cultural institutions that provide distinctive venues for gatherings.
Levine Center for the Arts is one of the city’s cultural treasures, a complex featuring Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, the 1,150-seat John S. and James L. Knight Theater and Mint Museum Uptown. The lobby of the Bechtler can welcome as many as 225 for receptions. The Gantt Center can accommodate receptions as large as 1,000. The Mint Museum, which houses American, contemporary and European artwork, is suitable for evening receptions as large as 600. Bojangles’ Coliseum, a venue for nationally touring entertainment acts, seats 10,500. NC Music Factory comprises 11 different venues, including the 1,500-seat Fillmore.
Whatever a group’s interest—from science to history—Charlotte can provide a unique and fascinating meeting space. Levine Museum of the New South preserves and interprets the region’s history since 1865 and accommodates gatherings as large as 600. So can interactive science center Discovery Place, which presents hands-on exhibits designed to engage the mind and the senses.
Delegates and media representatives will have an easier time traveling to Charlotte this September than ever before. Since recently adding more nonstop flights to domestic and international hubs, Charlotte Douglas International Airport is now the nation’s eighth-busiest airport. CLT serves more than 38 million passengers per year, and in 2010 received a “Best Airport” award from the International Air Transport Association. Renovations scheduled to begin after the DNC will include expanded terminals and a new parking garage that will double current parking facilities and place rentals closer to arrivals.
In addition to the red, white and blue of political bunting, Charlotte has been showing more green with recent additions to its Greenway park and path system. The system recently completed the Little Sugar Creek section, adding landscaping, walking paths and bocce ball pits to what will eventually total 15 miles of green space and creeks stretching from Cordelia Park to the South Carolina state line. The city has also recently built 50 electric vehicle charging stations, an effort led by The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte. The 146-room property holds a LEED Gold certification and offers 12,000 square feet of meeting space.
Gold mining brought riches and fame to Cabarrus County, adjacent to the northeast of Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County, in the 1800s. In the 21st century, success smells like burning rubber.
“Last year, stock car racing became North Carolina’s official state sport, and Cabarrus County, ‘Where Racing Lives,’ is the perfect place for attendees to experience the thrill of racing,” says Tracy Aldridge, senior vice president of sales and services for the Cabarrus County CVB.
With legendary venues like Charlotte Motor Speedway and unique team-building opportunities, Aldridge says Cabarrus County is a memorable meeting destination that is also easily accessible.
The county’s premier attraction is Charlotte Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile track that hosts events year-round and serves as the home track for many of NASCAR’s winningest drivers. The speedway offers a number of event spaces ranging from 22,000-square-foot garages to the 13,000-square-foot Speedway Club to a 100-person theater. Fans can bask in the glow of a champion at Dale Earnhardt Inc. The facility offers a retail store, showroom and 10,000 square feet of meeting space. Roush Fenway Racing presents a 13,000-square-foot museum dedicated to racing legend Jack Roush and available for rentals. Sam Bass Gallery features NASCAR-licensed artwork chronicling 30 years of racing. The gallery welcomes group tours with advance notification.
Cabarrus Arena & Events Center can host events for groups as large as 2,000. The county is home to 22 hotels and more than 50 restaurants. Two of the largest meeting hotels are the Embassy Suites, with 42,000 square feet of meeting space, and Great Wolf Lodge, which offers a 20,000-square-foot conference center.
Kelly Crumrin is a freelance travel writer who votes early and often for great barbecue.