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Republican National Convention relocation from Charlotte would be ‘substantial blow’ for county

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — With exact plans for the Republican National Convention still in the air, locals say relocating from Charlotte would be an economic blow to Rowan County, particularly for the industries struggling the most to recover from COVID-19.

The Republican National Committee said on Thursday that President Donald Trump intended to hold a rally in a different city to accept the Republican nomination but that the business portion of the convention would still be held in Charlotte in late August as planned. The RNC is scheduled for Aug. 24-27 in the Spectrum Center.

If the convention isn’t held in Charlotte, the Rowan County Tourism Development Authority Director James Meacham calls it “a substantial blow to an already struggling industry.”

Meacham said before COVID-19 the county based economic expectations on the impact from the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which was held in Charlotte. Held in September 2012, Rowan County saw a 17% increase in revenues from the convention, primarily in the lodging sector, compared to September 2011. As out-of-towners visit the county, they contribute to both the local sales and property taxes.

In 2013, it was estimated that Charlotte experienced an economic boost of $123 million from the DNC.

Meacham added that Rowan County sees not only visitors in the area who are attending the convention, but also visitors in the area for other business and unable to find lodging in Charlotte.

But the county is still in “wait-and-see mode” for the overall economic benefit to Rowan County, Meacham said, as bookings in 2012 were mostly last-minute lodging needs. Nonetheless, the authority will continue to do everything it can to continue the industry’s recovery.

On Tuesday, Cooper reiterated in a letter to the Republican National Committee his hesitation to honor the request for a “full convention,” which would include 19,000 delegates, alternative delegates, staff, volunteers, elected officials and guests” in the Spectrum Center as well as restaurants and hotels operating a full capacity.

In the letter, Cooper said North Carolina doesn’t yet know what the status of the COVID-19 pandemic will be in August, so “planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity.” He added that it is unlikely the committee would be able to host a full convention in late August.

The city of Charlotte announced on Thursday that after meeting with RNC representatives and others, “at this point in time, they intend to locate the entirety of the business portion of the convention in Charlotte.”

“What those intentions mean in terms of the number of visitors coming to Charlotte, the length of time and the amount of space needed to properly host the business portion of the convention is unclear with the RNC representatives agreeing to provide the parties with further information as their plans continue to develop,” the statement said. “The parties agreed to reconvene the conversation on Monday, June 8.”

Don Vick, the county’s Republican Party chairman, said losing the convention would provide a substantially negative impact as the county recovers from COVID-19. However, the county party plans to “roll with the punch” and has made plans if Trump delivers his nomination speech elsewhere.

The party is planning for a watch party at the county headquarters, which is scheduled for a grand opening on Saturday. It will be located at 612 W. Innes St. Vick added that party members still plan to attend the convention in Charlotte for any business-related matters held there.

But he notes that the concerns for COVID-19 are valid as more testing has indicated “we haven’t seen the end of COVID-19.” He said it may not a bad idea to scale back the original plans for the convention, but Vick said he still thinks the decision is “politically motivated.”

N.C. Sen. Carl Ford, a China Grove Republican whose district covers Rowan and Stanly counties, called not hosting a full convention in Charlotte the “biggest blow we’ve had all year,” as the convention would pump millions of dollars into the state’s economy.

“As if we needed anything else knocking our economy,” Ford said.

And, anecdotally, Ford said he has talked with people who have already booked in Cabarrus, Rowan and Gaston counties.

He added that Charlotte is attractive because both parties try to pick swing states to host their conventions, noting a state gubernatorial race that’s seen as No. 1 in the nation and a major U.S. Senate race as well. Ford said this, overall, could have an effect on Trump winning the state.

Additionally, conventions involve years of prepping, and the state and federal government have already paid for upgrades to the Spectrum Center arena as well as passed legislation to use out-of-state law enforcement, he said.

He added that if anyone felt uncomfortable attending due to health risks, they don’t have to.

While the county would lose out on revenue from hotel reservations and restaurant business from convention attendees, N.C. Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, said the convention will still serve as a positive, just not to the extent it was anticipated.

He added that there’s not as much uncertainty associated with COVID-19 for August compared to earlier in the year, as there’s less danger associated with community spread as experts originally thought.

“I believe 90% of what we worry about doesn’t happen,” he said.

Warren added that North Carolina being a swing state is appealing, and the convention will still bring enthusiasm to the Republican Party, as well as conservatives and nonaffiliated voters.

“It brings the nation’s attention to our great state,” he said.

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