Democratic National Convention

Convention’s benefits minimal to SC economy

Most of the business going to NC vendors

abeam@thestate.comSeptember 2, 2012 

Democratic Convention

Inside the Time Warner Cable Arena site of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

JAE C. HONG — AP

  • Some of the economic numbers 60 – Buses from South Carolina that are part of the shuttle system for delegates and guests 1,000 – Volunteers at the convention who are from South Carolina 1,100 – Hotel rooms reserved by the Democratic National Convention in York County 7,000 – South Carolinians who have tickets to President Barack Obama’s Thursday night speech accepting the Democratic nomination. The number of South Carolinians volunteering or planning to go to the convention means that South Carolinians also will be contributing to North Carolina’s economy.
  • Covering the Democratic National Convention The State’s Adam Beam and Andrew Shain are in Charlotte this week, covering the Democratic convention from a South Carolina point of view.
    Adam BeamAndy Shain

Shortly after lunch on Friday, Aug. 10, 10 Chevy Suburbans rolled up to Mr. Tint on Columbia’s Two Notch Road.

At the most, Mr. Tint can tint the windows of 20 cars in a day. On this day, it already had 16 cars on its schedule.

But these were not ordinary Suburbans. They were for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, where President Barack Obama will be accepting his party’s nomination this week.

“It’s not your everyday customer,” said owner Tom Nocilo, adding his employees worked into the night on Friday to finish the job. “For this size city, that’s a lot of cars for one operation.

“It was a good day for sure.”

But Nocilo’s good day has proven, thus far, to be a rarity in Columbia – and in South Carolina.

While Charlotte is less than 100 miles away from Columbia – and even closer to parts of the Upstate – the massive convention that it will host next week has not been a financial bonanza to the Palmetto State.

Nearly 300 S.C. businesses signed up to be potential vendors for the Democratic convention. But only a handful were selected – usually because North Carolina options were unavailable.

That shouldn’t be a surprise, says a University of South Carolina economist. But tourism officials hope the convention yet could hold a silver lining in future business.

“It will draw some media attention to the Carolinas,” Doug Woodward, a USC economist who studies economic development, said of the convention. “And that’s always a good thing. But I think the identity will be much more North Carolina than South Carolina.”

So, as 35,000 people pour into Charlotte today for the start of the convention, South Carolina will focus its efforts on getting those visitors to come back to South Carolina later for a vacation, not on coaxing them to spend money in the Palmetto State this week.

“We can get some people more interested in visiting South Carolina in the future if we just give them a taste of some of the things we have to offer,” said Jayne Scarborough, spokeswoman for the S.C. Democratic National Convention Committee. “They will come back.”

York County courts visitors

South Carolina will have some direct economic impact from the convention – most of it in the Rock Hill-Fort Mill area of York County, just across the border from Charlotte.

York County has 31 hotels, with 17,960 reservations available this week and 17,191 of them are booked, according to Mikki Rentschler, interim executive director of the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Rentschler estimates the minimum direct spending on those hotel rooms at $2.6 million – a “conservative number,” he said.

The state’s strategy for engaging those visitors revolves around getting them to come back.

Every morning, the guests in the York County hotel rooms will be greeted by “costumed interpreters” to lure people to area attractions: Civil War-era clothing to Rose Hill Plantation State Park and Revolutionary War-era clothing from Andrew Jackson State Park. Also, representatives from the Catawba Cultural Center will wear ceremonial dress to greet guests.

Rock Hill officials also held an “Experience South Carolina” festival Saturday, designed to showcase S.C. food and attractions. And Friday, state tourism officials will hand out peaches at the S.C. welcome center of I-77.

Myrtle Beach touts tourism

While York County focuses on those attending the convention, Myrtle Beach officials are skipping the delegates and focusing entirely on the reporters who will be covering the Democrats.

A leader of South Carolina’s $14 billion-a-year tourism industry, Myrtle Beach has partnered with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute to host “Hospitality Central” for reporters – and only reporters – during the convention. Amenities include free food, drinks, WiFi and charging stations for computers and phones. And every day, Myrtle Beach tourism officials will give away a weeklong vacation to a reporter.

Charlotte is Myrtle Beach’s largest source of tourists, with about 1.3 million Charlotte-area residents visiting Myrtle Beach every year.

“It’s sort of a no-brainer in terms of maintaining our presence in Charlotte,” said Nora Battle, of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and its Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The chances of getting some good press out of this are good, and that’s what we are hoping for.”

Myrtle Beach officials also commissioned a giant sand sculpture of President Obama, featuring “15.5 tons of South Carolina sand,” Battle said. The sculpture was a big hit when it was completed Saturday morning with lots of people stopping to take a picture – including Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, Battle said.

A rainstorm damaged portions of Obama’s arm Saturday afternoon, causing at least one national media outlet to wonder if it was a sign of a “plagued convention.” But it was repaired quickly.

“It’s getting quite a bit of attention – and that was the goal,” Battle said.

Will Columbia sell more hotel rooms?

In Columbia, hotel operators are hoping to pick up some overflow from room reservations that normally would be make in the Charlotte area.

Hotels in Charlotte and the surrounding suburbs largely are full from the convention. That could push some of hotels’ normal business and travel customers further away – to Columbia. Tourism officials call this phenomenon “compression” and cite examples like the Masters golf tournament in nearby Augusta, which annually helps fill dozens of Columbia hotel rooms.

But Jason Outman, sales director for the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism, said lots of the hotels in the Charlotte suburbs are not full despite the Democratic convention.

“There is a little concern that if the suburbs of Charlotte aren’t full, how much compression will we actually see,” he said. “Compared to last year (Columbia hotels) haven’t seen any additional growth at this point.”

‘Exciting to

be a part’

While Columbia-area hotels wait to see if they will profit from the convention, S.C. companies have not been shut out of the spending.

Democratic convention officials say 60 buses from S.C. transportation companies will be part of the Charlotte-area shuttle system for delegates and guests. Linda Morris, executive director of the Motorcoach Associations of South and North Carolina, said the convention used North Carolina buses first and filled whatever needs were left with transportation companies from other states.

“I am pleased some of our South Carolina operators are able to participate,” she said.

Convention officials also spent $7 million renovating Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena and another $5 million renovating Bank of America Stadium, where President Barack Obama will give his acceptance speech on Thursday night.

Sunbelt Rentals, an equipment-rental company based in Fort Mill, will have about 150 pieces of equipment deployed in Charlotte this week – including the scaffolding that workers use in the arena, light poles for convention-related parties, and air conditioners and dehumidifiers to combat the Southern climate.

Sunbelt Rentals, owned by London-based Ashtead Group, says it is the second-largest equipment rental company in the country. It is accustomed to working large events, including NASCAR races and concerts.

But a once-every-four years political convention raises the stakes.

“The scale itself isn’t bigger, but the stage seems bigger,” said Rod Nease, a vice president, adding Sunbelt has been preparing for the convention for about six months.

“An event of this stature, of this magnitude, just kind of shines a good light on our area,” Nease said. “It’s exciting to be a part of that.”

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