Charlotte receives high marks from DNC for 'Southern hospitality'

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 7, 2012 

On the final night of the Democratic National Convention, Charlotte got a little love.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa offered his opinion on the city to thousands of delegates, visitors and media at Time Warner Cable Arena.

“To our wonderful hosts in Charlotte,” said the convention chair. “There’s no hospitality quite like Southern hospitality!”

Of course, not everyone felt that way. Critics aimed plenty of criticism Charlotte’s way this week: excessive security, shoddy hotel rooms, obstructed views in the arena. With all the rain, Democrats had to move the last day of the convention indoors, stiffing 65,000 public ticketholders.

But there were also positive reviews – especially from those who attended the recent Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

Despite the traffic and security, Charlotte remained a city where a visitor could easily score some grits and home brew.

“It’s been easy for me when I want to peel away from this security environment and go to a Charlotte restaurant and have grilled shrimp and grits and a beer or two,” said Chuck Plunkett, politics editor for the Denver Post.

“In Tampa, it was like a banana republic during a coup. The security was so overwhelming. Apparently the locals had the same kind of feeling … that we better shut down and get out and not come.”

Plunkett speaks from experience.

He spent 18 months covering the Denver host committee that put on the 2008 Democratic convention. Like Denver, he said, Charlotte did a better job of embracing the conventioneers without scaring away locals.

College Street bustled. Entrepreneurs hawking Obama garb nestled next to protesters carrying 6-foot crosses. And while some residents fled Charlotte, thousands stuck around and braved the uptown chaos for a Labor Day street fair of funnel cakes and blown-up trampoline houses.

In Tampa, businesses complained that conventioneers rarely strayed outside the security zone. Of course, Charlotte, unlike Tampa, did not have a threatening tropical storm.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that the Charlotte experience was better.

“What was witnessed by reporters and delegates was a town where its residents were celebrating,” the newspaper reported. “What they found in Tampa was a city that felt desolate.”

Even Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat and member of the Florida delegation, acknowledged Charlotte was more lively.

Buckhorn said the city of Charlotte was designed in a way that encouraged more activity.

“Your downtown is very different than our downtown,” Buckhorn said. “It is very retail-oriented and pedestrian-friendly.”

Better for protests

Ricardo Mir De Francia, Washington correspondent for the Spanish newspaper El Periodico in Barcelona, liked what he’s seen of the city – “the people, the bars, the cafes.”

“The skyscrapers are quite pretty,” he said. “I like that (uptown is) kind of small, reachable.”

Activist Dianne Mathiowetz, who marched in both cities, criticized the $50 million federal security grant that each city received. She said the amount was exorbitant and was used partially to suppress demonstrators’ ability to march for their causes.

But in Charlotte, she said, demonstrators could at least march through populated sections of its downtown. In Tampa, the sidewalks were largely empty except for media and police.

“A lot more people in Charlotte got to see the protest themselves and didn’t have to rely on the lowball numbers of the police,” Mathiowetz said.

“There were both delegates and people from Charlotte who were on the streets. We did go right past Bank of America and Wells Fargo and Duke Energy.”

Charlotte Observer staff writers Victoria Guida, Jim Morrill and Mark Washburn contributed.

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