By Sommer Brokaw, Special to the NNPA from The Charlotte Post –
The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament attracts thousands of middle- to upper-class African Americans who will spend millions on Charlotte businesses, especially those that are Black-owned.
With $2 million in ticket sales, more than 140,000 fans likely to come not just for basketball, but entertainment, many hotel rooms booked, concerts, shows, celebrity guests, and numerous parties, the tournament is expected to be bigger than ever.
Marvin Wilson, owner of Wilson’s Travel Secrets, an upscale travel and entertainment agency, has seen growth in the wealthier crowd coming into town for the tournament. “Looking at private jets coming in I maybe did about two in the last year and a half, and this year I’ve already put together four,” he said.
He added that entertainers on tour abroad are coming to Charlotte for the tournament, and he’s worked with EZ-Tixx on 150 shows this year, up from about 30 when he started in 2008. Several fans that attend these shows have money to spend with some two-hour shows costing $150 per person.
Wilson has sold 200 hotel rooms in the downtown area with hotel rooms sometimes costing around $350 and activities attached to it bringing spending to around $600 a day.
“It’s very important because my whole genre is travel and entertainment,” he said. “It’s putting a big stamp on Charlotte itself, and the more we add to it the more it will be beneficial not only to the tournament, but to businesses as well.”
The CIAA draws alumni this year from its 13 member schools – 12 of them historically Black colleges – from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. Thousands of others with no ties to the schools or league will also be in Charlotte, which is contracted to host the tournament through 2014.
According to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority’s research, the tournament accounted for $24 million in direct spending last year, a total economic impact of more than $37 million in a one-week period in 2010. Anthony Lindsey, a board member, CRVA, and head of CIAA local organizing committee, said during a press conference that this economic impact is up from $15 million when Charlotte became the host city in 2006. He added that it has also had a tremendous impact on job creation with N.C. Employment Security Commission figures showing growth in the leisure and hospitality industry.
“The CIAA is really big for us,” said James Bazzelle, owner and executive chef of Mert’s Heart and Soul restaurant in Center City. “We have a lot of convention business, but this tournament really starts off our year because January tends to be really slow because the weather is bad. Before the beginning of spring, it really gives a boost for us.”
La’Wan Adams, a graduate of CIAA member Virginia State University and owner of La’Wan’s Soul Food restaurant, said the tournament is the highlight of the business year.
“Our business has been here for 10 years, but every year the CIAA has come through the city of Charlotte business is awesome, and we go a little further than normal by extending our hours to accommodate fans,” she said.
Juanita Walton, co-owner of Oasis Day Spa and graduate of Johnson C. Smith University, a CIAA school, said that they normally see more women coming in particularly for manicures and pedicures, and some come in for massages and facials with a spike during tournament week.
Walton said CIAA fans are mostly college graduates that break the negative stereotypes that a large number of Blacks at an event will create a ruckus.
She made a comparison to the wild spring break street festival in Atlanta that resulted in anger over traffic gridlock and sexual assaults on women.
“This isn’t Freaknik,” she said. “These are older people. These are people with money. This is the middle class of Black America coming to spend money here in Charlotte. It would be extremely missed whenever their contract is up. If they left, it would be felt.”
Walton said that even in tough economic times the tournament’s economic impact is beneficial not only for Charlotte in general, but especially Black businesses with fans seeking them out to support them. “When people come, they are very conscientious of ‘I want to go to Mert’s or I want to go to Oasis,’” she said.
Millicent McMillan, owner of All Texture Barber Salon, said that even though her business is located outside of the city center, the economic impact still has a ripple effect.
“I have some friends that have businesses uptown that might make a lot of money from the tournament,” she said. “They’re going to spend their money with us eventually.”