Earned Boosterism

The DNC was expected to pump millions into Charlotte's economy. Weird — it actually did
Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

It’s always good to be skeptical of grand predictions of an event’s “economic impact” on a city. For one thing, “economic impact” can be measured in all kinds of slippery ways, and the tourism officials whose job it is to predict boldly — and deliver on the predictions — must always be tempted to juke the numbers if they don’t quite match projections. Sometimes, though, there’s no hiding it. Sometimes you have a massive flop on your hands.

I got a taste of civic floppage early. I was 14 when New Orleans hosted the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition, an endeavor that turned a riverfront of decaying warehouses and a ridiculous Journey video* into a playground for the good folks of the Crescent City and the greater Southland. The World’s Fair — who can forget its pelican mascot, Seymore D. Fair? — drew more than 7 million visitors during its six-month run.

The problem was that organizers and tourism officials had predicted 11 million. The fair lost more than $100 million. It declared bankruptcy in mid-run. The United States hasn’t hosted a World’s Fair since. The deeply sad postscript came from chief organizer Petr Spurney, who had run the 1980 Winter Olympics, for heaven’s sake: “I always wanted to know if I could do something like this from start to finish,” he said. “I guess the answer is no.”

So I think you could forgive people for taking the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority’s pre-Democratic National Convention prediction of an economic impact of between $150 million and $200 million with at least a handful of salt. Of course it’d have some impact, but that much?

Well, yeah, apparently:

September’s Democratic National Convention injected $91 million in new spending into the local economy, for a total economic impact of nearly $164 million, according to a consultant’s report released Monday.

The three-day DNC was the city’s largest convention and its most lucrative, local leaders said during a news conference Monday. More than one in five dollars poured into the local economy came from the federal government, through a security grant.

“This is the most direct spending in the history of Charlotte,” said Tom Murray, chief executive of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

The visitors group, along with the city of Charlotte and three other groups, hired Tourism Economics to conduct a detailed study of the convention’s dollars. The decision to hire an outside consultant for $25,000 came after the Visitors Authority’s past estimates of economic impact for conventions were found to be wildly inflated.

Hotels, of course, saw the biggest windfall, and Tourism Economics’ report didn’t shy away from the DNC’s deleterious effects on some local retailers’ business.

Overall, though, and I’ll be damned, but the thing worked, and there’s no way yet to measure the indirect and not-yet-conceived benefits of the nation getting to view Charlotte as a bona fide city, even if some of the area’s hotels do kind of suck, even if the tier it occupies is secondary. So Washington types bitched that Charlotte isn’t Chicago or Philadelphia? Fine. I’m just glad they didn’t compare it to Greensboro.

*Seriously, if you grew up in the ’80s and haven’t seen the Literal Video version, click here posthaste.