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Is CATS ready for CIAA? 

Officials detail plans to move fans in Uptown

With basketball and party fans pouring into town within the next few weeks, the Charlotte Area Transit System will be facing a new challenge that could make or break the Uptown experience.

Light rail is rolling, but how are the gurus of transportation going to get fans to climb aboard?

It might help if they make sure visitors know it is available. CIAA fan and North Carolina Central graduate Ed Cook says he didn't even know Charlotte had its light rail system up and running. On top of that, the Durham resident says he doesn't know if he'll be riding the light rail since he's not staying in Center City.

But the CATS Chief Operating Planning Officer, Larry Kofs, wants CIAA fans to know that you don't have to be in Uptown to take advantage of light rail.

"We have developed a brochure with general information and the CIAA has a link [to the CATS Web site] on their Web site [www.ciaatournament.org]," Kofs says. "An issue with the CIAA has been Uptown parking. But parking in the Lynx Blue Line lots is free."

Kofs says getting the word out means dropping off brochures in the hotels where the fans will be staying. And, according to CATS spokeswoman Jean Leier, staying in an Uptown hotel isn't a requirement to using CATS trains or buses. Charlotte's trolley service -- the Gold Rush -- will be launching a CIAA line this year that will run until 6 p.m. and take riders from the Convention Center to the Afro-American Cultural Center (regular Gold Rush lines run until midnight during the tournament).

"We have buses that run from the hotels in SouthPark and the Ballantyne area that connect to the rail. And our passes from the buses to the rail are seamless," she says.

The CIAA is sort of a test run for how CATS will deal with the upcoming ACC and NCAA basketball tournaments as well. Kofs says there is a difference in the three tournaments.

"The CIAA," he says, "is a big event that happens to have a basketball tournament. Fans say that the CIAA is like a big family reunion."

The CIAA runs Feb. 25 through March 1.

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