Six months from today, thousands of politicians, journalists, pundits, and tourists will swarm Charlotte for the Republican National Convention. The event, during which the GOP will nominate President Donald Trump for a second term, takes place August 24-27.
In the months leading up to it, crews will patch sidewalks and inspect water mains. Nonprofit organizations are shifting major events that usually occur over the summer. Security officials are outlining ways to keep the city safe.
After the Democratic National Convention in 2012, the city has a general roadmap for how to host a political convention. But Charlotte is a much different place now, with condos and high-rises and other developments now brimming with people on land that in 2012 was all parking lots or grass.
What’s different: In the past eight years, Charlotte’s population has grown by more than 100,000 people, census data shows. In 2012, convention planners set aside an empty field at the corner of Stonewall and Caldwell as a “Free Speech Zone.” Now, that property is a sweeping development that includes Whole Foods and luxury apartments.
Since the last convention, the blue line extension has started running, too. The extension is the roughly 10-mile route that connects Uptown with University City. Like the original light rail did in South End, the extension has spurred development around it in areas like NoDa.
In a recent interview, assistant city manager Angela Charles said city officials have to prepare for a convention in a much a denser city center this time.
Organizers say an estimated 50,000 visitors will descend upon Charlotte for the RNC. They are expected to inject roughly $121 million into the local economy.
Expect heavy security: Addressing city council a few weeks ago, CMPD chief Kerr Putney said the security perimeter will be similar to what it was in 2012. That year, a perimeter fence with check points covered about 60 percent of the city center. The Secret Service’s security plans had about 30 streets blocked off or restricted, according to the Charlotte Observer.
The security plan also had a one-block radius around Spectrum Center — then called the Time Warner Cable Arena — blocked off for pedestrians. Only people with credentials could enter. Additionally, sections of the John Belk Freeway were shut down temporarily.
CMPD will know “sometime in the summer” exactly what the plan looks like, with road closures and the perimeter mapped out.
“We have a head start because of the work we did back then,” Putney said. “I can assure you that nobody will be surprised about the impact to their business or their operations.”
Still, navigating Uptown for non-convention activities will be tough. In 2012, big employers like Duke Energy and Bank of America encouraged many of their Uptown employees to work remotely during the DNC. It’s likely firms with an Uptown presence will do the same this summer.
Many Charlotte residents will look to rent their homes and condos out during the RNC, too. An Airbnb management company told the Agenda last fall that listings here are going for as much as $799 per night during the RNC. Neighborhoods within five miles of Uptown, like Plaza Midwood or Dilworth, will be in especially high demand.
The RNC hotel room block is expected to be roughly 15,000 room nights at its peak, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.
Infrastructure improvements: Over the next several months, city workers are performing routine infrastructure maintenance on a fast-tracked schedule, Charles said. Around town, you’ll notice Charlotte Water testing fire hydrants, crews filling potholes and sidewalk cracks, and construction workers finishing minor projects on city-owned property.
“The city does a pretty good job of maintaining its infrastructure. It’s just a matter of the timing that we’re looking at,” Charles said.
During the RNC, a number of high-profit city-owned properties will look much different. At the Spectrum Center, crews will raise the arena floor by 10 feet in order to make more room for delegates. The convention center will host thousands of members of the press during the RNC, like it did during the DNC.
Development on pause, briefly: Many construction crews with jobs Uptown already know they won’t be working that week. But other projects outside of center city will continue.
One, for example, is the airport’s terminal lobby expansion, a five-year project that began in December. The project will nearly double the size of the lobby.
Earlier this month, the airport’s aviation director, Brent Cagle, said airport officials will work to ensure there’s minimal impact on travelers during the RNC.
“We are taking steps to ensure proper ingress and egress,” Cagle told city council.
Rescheduling big events: Two of the biggest summer events had to reschedule because of the RNC — the Around the Crown 10K race and the Charlotte Pride festival and parade.
Around the Crown starts and finishes at Romare Bearden Park, and takes runners around the I-277 inner loop. Last year it took place September 1; this year it has moved to May 31. The plan is to move it back to Labor Day Weekend in 2021 and beyond, says race director Brian Mister.
Charlotte Pride is normally the third weekend of August. It drew an estimated 200,000 to Uptown last year.
This year, it will be the first weekend of August. Charlotte Pride communications director Matt Comer says hosting the event a few weeks earlier allows them to “tell an expanded story” about Charlotte and its LGBTQ community before the RNC starts.
“In our current political discourse … the concerns of LGBTQ people are often not heard,” Comer said. “We think that having the festival and parade a few weeks before the RNC is going to offer a nice contrast.”