BOKHARI: Charlotte Must Host the 2020 RNC

How we approach hosting this convention foreshadows how our economy will recover from COVID-19

The Spectrum Center is shown in downtown Charlotte, N.C., Monday, July 23, 2018. The arena is the site of the Republican National Convention in 2020. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

In a post-COVID world, being able to host conventions and large gatherings in a safe way is a big competitive advantage for North Carolina’s economic recovery. Our ability to come together regardless of party and make the RNC 2020 convention both safe and an economic windfall for our struggling economy will have implications far beyond a single event.

Over the last two years, millions of dollars have been already spent to plan for the RNC. Many of our struggling small businesses already have contracts to perform services for everything from event planning to catering services. This event will bring over $150 million in positive economic impact to a city whose hospitality and tourism industry is quite frankly reeling right now.

In a recent report by Charlotte’s own LendingTree, 71% of small businesses fear they will never recover from the pandemic. They went on to report that accommodations and food services has been the hardest hit, with 82% laying off workers. NC’s small businesses have been given very little lead time on the details of how they can operate over these last 2 months, and even less data backing up what they view as inconsistent rulings such as orders allowing restaurants to open but not bars, and only allowing breweries that serve food to open.

We need fast action from all parties involved to get this right going forward. We need our state leaders to give specific guidelines for re-opening of live gatherings. Whether it’s the RNC, Carolina Panthers or a local restaurant, they all need consistent guidance on the requirements to re-open and that can’t be a case-by-case basis where the government picks who can re-open. Business leaders and organizations of all sizes are making plans, and they need to know the rules.

President Trump’s tweet about the convention caused a firestorm of cable news hyperventilation from one side to the other. We can debate whether he should do this on Twitter, or phrase things the way he does, but for the head of a major undertaking that’s committing over $100 million to not be able to get a direct answer on whether it can happen is unrealistic, at best. We don’t expect anyone in these unprecedented times to get guarantees, but just like 10,000+ small businesses that have been struggling in Charlotte since March, understanding what metrics the state will be monitoring in relation to the virus, what scenarios they expect to play out based on that data, and how they will measure compliance should be a fair compromise.

For those that argue it will not be safe to have an in-person convention of any kind in three months, I will remind you that much has changed in just the last two months. The data is tracking positively at this point, especially when compared to the original models on which early decisions were made. Of the 1.1 million people in Mecklenburg County, 0.31% have tested positive for the virus as of May 25th, and of the 75 tragic deaths confirmed to date, almost all have been over the age of 60, have severe underlying health issues, or reside in long-term care facilities.

While we anticipate infected cases to grow as we test more, nationwide we have seen statistically significant sample sizes paired with much lower than modeled mortality rates. While we must remain diligent in our practices and data monitoring, if it continues on this path it’s reasonable for us to assume the several dozen major conventions and events on the books in Charlotte for 2020 have good odds to proceed in some fashion.

It is my hope and prayer that Covid-19 is a wake-up to us all – to lay down our partisan daggers and come together as Americans. We are literally all in this together. We’ve learned this from countless Charlotteans throughout history – from those brave revolutionary fighters that came together to craft the Mecklenburg Declaration amidst turbulent times, to the bankers and politicians that came together to make Charlotte the nation’s 2nd largest banking center that we all know today.

They knew that non-partisanship with a get-stuff-done attitude can make anything possible, and now is one of those times. North Carolina should show that we are the best for not only conventions, but also for entrepreneurs and small businesses, for corporate relocations, for vacations, tourism, and quality of life. And to do that, we need our leaders to make it easy for anyone making those decisions to have NC at the top of their list.

To all parties currently at the RNC 2020 negotiating table: Let’s get this done. The world is watching, and our small businesses are counting on you.

Tariq Bokhari is the District 6 Representative on the Charlotte City Council.