What’s next for Charlotte – Olympics? Super Bowl?

Published 8:24 pm Saturday, September 8, 2012

Associated Press
CHARLOTTE— Nearly a year before Charlotte pulled off a successful Democratic National Convention, business leaders gathered to kick around what they city might do next.
A Super Bowl? Maybe a G-20 Summit? Or perhaps what one entrepreneur suggested, the biggest event on Earth — the Olympics.
Any thoughts of those kinds of grand events are still just dreams, said Charlotte Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Morgan. But Charlotte is the kind of place that often gets what it wants and usually wins on the first try — just look at the NFL’s Panthers, the NBA’s Hornets and Bobcats and the convention.
“It is part of the DNA of those of us in Charlotte to continually aspire to be more than what we are,” said Morgan who would like the city to double in size to 4 million in 20 years.
Basking in the glow of his city’s success Friday, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx said he thinks the city is poised to do whatever it wants, from the Super Bowl to the Olympics, as long as it continued to work and sell itself hard.
“I think what’s more important to me in the future of the city is not whether we can host another large-scale event, it is really that we reminded ourselves all over again of what we can achieve when we put our minds to it. This city’s ability to achieve great things is absolutely limitless and I think we’ve proved that to ourselves all over again this past week,” Foxx said.
But the hurdles to landing any of the world’s hugest events are significant.
G-20 Summits, which host government, financial and bank leaders from the 20 major economies in the world, don’t come around very often and have already been hosted twice in four years by the United States.
Charlotte has never made an organized attempt to get a Super Bowl. The Panthers’ stadium was built in the mid-1990s and is older than half the others in the NFL. The league has also been leery about awarding its biggest game played in February to an open-air stadium outside of Florida and California, although New York landed the 2014 Super Bowl.
The Olympics might be the hardest event to attract. The U.S. hasn’t hosted since Salt Lake City in 2002, and recent bids by New York and Chicago flamed out spectacularly. But since then, international and U.S. Olympic leaders have settled a fight over future money from TV and marketing deals, which some blamed for the rejections.
Charlotte leaders point out Atlanta parlayed its 1988 Democratic convention into a successful Olympic bid for 1996. But Atlanta, a large metropolitan city, was already well into the process of landing the games. Charlotte hasn’t started. Bids for the 2024 games start in just three years, and bids for the 2028 Olympics start in 2019.
Also, the Atlanta games were the last paid for privately. Cities and countries now have to promise billions of dollars to Olympic organizers.
“You��re going to have a government willing to put a pot full of money into an event like this and back it financially,” said A.D. Frazier, who was senior vice president for the committee that brought the games to Atlanta.
But plenty of people have been wrong about Charlotte before. When the city was trying to get its first professional sports team in the mid-1980s, an out-of-town columnist wrote that the only franchise Charlotte was going to get is one with golden arches. The NBA Hornets were awarded to the city two years later.
And that competitive fire and desire to be a world class city spreads to residents as well. Locals swelled with pride when visitors praised the clean streets or the helpful volunteers for the convention.
“We are putting on a great Democratic convention. We should be able to hold anything. The Republicans should be back in four years,” said Andre Harris, a butcher at a Harris Teeter grocery store who rode the light rail train into downtown Thursday just to see what it looked like during the convention. “We’re cleaner, better looking, more beautiful and just a better place than Atlanta.”
While Olympics, Super Bowls and other huge events are fun to dream about, Morgan said big events serve a more mundane purpose for a city that has grown over every census since 1790.
The Democratic convention brought more than 300 representatives of foreign governments to Charlotte, and the Chamber of Commerce arranged tours of the city’s banking centers, energy companies and major health care providers, hoping to get into a mostly untapped vast international market for the city.
“We are a region today of less than 2 million people. We are going to double that over the next 20 years,” Morgan said. “We want that growth. We think that growth brings increased well generation for the citizen of this region.”
That’s what is really next for a city whose growth has been driven by cash and banks, whether it was institutions lending to textile mills a century ago or banks on the cutting edge of technology. Just like the succinct slogan the city had in the 1970s: “A Good Place to Make Money.”

Associated Press Writer Mitch Weiss contributed to this report.