If all of Charlotte's neighborhoods were siblings, it's obvious which one would be the over-achiever. With its high-profile companies and gigantic, shiny buildings, Uptown is the older brother your parents brag about to their friends.
When the Democratic National Convention arrives, the center of Charlotte may feel like the center of the universe. But with more than 35,000 visitors expected during the convention, surrounding neighborhoods are hoping — and trying — to muscle their way in for some of the action.
Official convention sites are tucked into I-277, but leaders in surrounding communities, mostly east and west Charlotte, are trying to bring some of the peripheral activities to their neighborhoods. There's a good chance they might succeed. The DNC Host Committee sponsors 12 delegate welcoming parties, all during the opening weekend of the convention, and more than 1,000 events are expected in the Charlotte area for that first week in September.
One of those events would have been at the Charlotte Museum of History, on the east side, had it not closed its doors in May due to financial problems. The party has been moved to the Historic Rosedale Plantation on North Tryon Street.
The convention committee drew up five hotel zones for delegates that are in proximity to the convention, including Uptown, the University area, Concord, the airport and south Charlotte. Though there are a few hotels in east Charlotte, none are close enough to each other, which makes complicates transportation, said Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the committee.
That isn't stopping Jeanie Welch from working hard to bring delegates to her side of town.
"There's something in between Concord and Uptown. We need to show [visitors] what that is," said Welch, a board member with the Charlotte East Community Partners and the Eastland Area Strategies Team.
Welch and the organizations she works with have been brainstorming alternative ways to bring people to east Charlotte, speaking with other groups, such as the East Charlotte Rotary and the east chapter of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. One idea she likes is a restaurant tour, similar to Taste of the World, held in that area each October. (But, in her words, the "logistics of Taste of the World are a nightmare" and couldn't be pulled off so quickly.)
Susan Lindsay, another Eastland board member, is also banking on the area's restaurants. She remembers when some friends visited the city and told a taxi driver to take them somewhere different. The driver took the visitors straight to Central Avenue, where they had a great dinner.
"We need to get people thinking like that cab driver," Lindsay said.
She points to a day of service at local parks and other legacy projects leading up to the convention as a good sign that the DNC is reaching out to all corners of the city. She worries, however, that such efforts may not do much for the small businesses in the area.
"I don't think that will address the issue of economic impact," Lindsay said.
Mayor Anthony Foxx said he is well-aware of the need to spread the wealth coming into the city.
"The goal of our convention is to expose people to all parts of our city and also to create economic opportunities for people who traditionally may not have been able to access something like this," he said.
A convention impact report done by the city and county of Denver, Colo., after 2008's DNC shows an impact of $88.8 million from direct and indirect visitor spending. The surrounding seven-county metropolitan area saw an even greater impact from visitor spending, with some $127.1 million.
But things were different in Denver, where delegates stayed in surrounding counties, said Janet Fritz, director of marketing and technology for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. Being a bigger city also helped in planning and executing such a large event.
"The entire region surrounding the city did very well," Fritz said. "But we host a lot of big conventions every year, so I think we were well-prepared and well-suited."
Where Charlotte does have the advantage is technology. Denver's DNC website had a business directory for anyone visiting or trying to do business in the city that week. Charlotte's site does too, but the difference is in the database, which is searchable not just by a business's description or name but by its owner, who can register as a minority or veteran when applicable. The committee has vowed to spend a third of its budget on hiring minority-owned businesses, of which there are an estimated 22,695 in the Charlotte region.
The site also features Charlotte Stories, a video series that highlights different community projects and area businesses. A new video is added every week.
In west Charlotte, a group of students and faculty at Johnson C. Smith University is using the same method to shed light on their community as the convention approaches. Run DNC began as a classroom project that gave students a chance to share their stories while learning how to create, edit and post videos online. It has since grown to include alumni and members of the west Charlotte community as well.
"There's been a lot of concern raised about the lack of voice people in the west side corridor have," said Cindy Kistenberg, a Smith professor and project volunteer. "That's what makes this story so awesome. We're giving voices to people whose voices aren't usually heard, and it's not the pretty packaged picture of Charlotte that a lot of people are going to be getting."
The project has already garnered some attention from local news outlets and connected the group of about 40 students with the Georgia delegation, which is working to get Run DNC members inside the convention. The group is trying to secure funds so it can live past the DNC.
"It's about Charlotte, and Charlotte doesn't end after the DNC ends," Kistenberg said.
Mary C. Curtis contributed to this report.
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