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Hello? Anybody There? 

Mike Burg had done a lot of sleuthing, and, like most entrepreneurs who attempt to put together something in Charlotte, he seemed frustrated. He'd called all over town, but still didn't feel like he'd spoken to quite the right people. So he called me to verify who the right people were, just to make sure he hadn't missed any. Specifically, Burg wanted to know who was in charge, you know, who his contact should be in Charlotte.

There is no contact for this sort of thing, I tried to explain to him. Things aren't done that way here. You can't just walk into someone's office with a great idea other cities would die for and think someone in Charlotte is going to give a damn. You have to know people, or get in good with the people who know the right people, I told him.

Burg is the president and owner of Edge Marketing, a successful promotions company. He puts together major national television shows. His latest work, a show called Summer Music Mania, will debut nationally on FOX June 20 and will feature artists like Alanis Morissette, Ja Rule and Nelly. Burg is working on another project, a seven-day indoor Southern music festival that will likely feature everyone from the Dixie Chicks to James Brown and will be televised nationally on several television networks. Because he happens to live here, he thought he'd see if there was any enthusiasm for holding it here. In Charlotte.

Burg is hardly desperate. He could hold the thing in any number of Southern cities, as he's done in the past with other nationally televised programs. The coliseum or the Blumenthal could meet his needs, he says, because they are television friendly. What he's seeking is corporate support, someone to pave the way and help him make all the complex arrangements for putting something like this together as easy as they could be. Why work hard here when they'd roll the carpet out for you elsewhere?

When Burg called me, he asked me to sell him on Charlotte as a location for the festival, which will be televised in April. I sat there sweating in my grubby little cubicle, the hairs on the back of my neck standing up, struggling to pull the sales pitch of the century out of rear end. Unfortunately, I'm not a sales whiz, I'm a journalist. It sounded like a bunch of rubbish.

In desperation, I called the only person I could think of who knows enough of the right people and is owed enough favors to pull this off. I called city council member Lynn Wheeler. As much as I've occasionally wanted to clock the woman, I must admit she gets things done. When I later talked to Burg, I found out that he'd talked to Wheeler and had finally gotten the reception and the genuine enthusiasm he was looking for, though the sense I got is that we have a long way to go to get his business.

It is worth noting that when I spoke to him, Burg had already made the rounds at Charlotte Center City Partners, but he didn't seem satisfied.

Wake up people. You know who you are. How many times do I have to smack you across the face with the same column? How many opportunities will you let slip away? Wheeler should never have to take a call like this, and neither should I. An entertainer or business owner looking to locate a business or hold an event in Charlotte shouldn't have to call a reporter at Creative Loafing to figure out how to get things done here. But it has happened to me twice in the last six months. That's pathetic.

Hotel owners desperate for occupancy should note that the entourage that accompanied a similar television production by Burg's company at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut filled 700 hotel rooms. They should also note that Burg is hardly the only person in the country putting these productions together. He's part of a whole industry that could be courted by our city if we had a committee or other organization willing to go after it. We have organizations that should be going after it, but they've been too busy sitting on their rears for the last decade, chewing their fingernails to the quick over some dumb arena, sitting still while the world sped by them.

A hundred engineering conventions a year may help pacify struggling hotel owners, but it won't make Charlotte a world-class city.

Richard Florida, a professor of regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University, sounded the economic warning bell of the future last month in the Washington Monthly last month in an article called "The Rise of the Creative Class."

"If you ask most community leaders what kinds of people they'd most want to attract," he wrote, "they'd likely say successful married couples in their 30s and 40s -- people with good middle-to-upper income jobs and stable family lives ... But less than a quarter of all American households consist of traditional nuclear families, and focusing solely on their needs has been a losing strategy, one that neglects a critical engine of economic growth: young people."

Young people aren't looking for the same things anymore, he wrote. The young, highly-educated, well-paid segment of the workforce upon whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend prefers a well-developed music scene and interesting music venues, neighborhood art galleries and a sort of street-level culture. Most importantly, his research showed, a vibrant, varied nightlife, one that could never be the product of chain restaurants and polite meeting places that close at midnight, was viewed as a signal that a city "gets it."

Instead, he writes, cities across the nation stuck in the old paradigms of what made a city great 20 years ago are still pouring precious resources into underwriting big-box retailers and subsidizing downtown malls and extravagant stadium complexes.

We must recruit and foster a vibrant downtown nightlife by selling club owners up and down the East Coast on Charlotte. If the 50-and 60-something leaders of this city who don't know what goes on in Charlotte after 9pm don't know how to do this, they must seek out someone capable who does and turn the project over to them. We should be reaching out to the Mike Burgs. We should be selling our city to them. And for the love of God, there should be a number they can call, and a warm voice on the other end of the line that answers. *

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