DNC 2012
1:02 pm
Thu August 30, 2012

DNC Brings Opportunities, Disappointments For Charlotte Businesses

The visitor pavilion at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
Credit Courtesy of Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Charlotte businesses are gearing up for next week's Democratic National Convention. Grounds crews are sprucing up botanical gardens, machines are whirring away at printing shops, and caterers are preparing heaps of food. But even with tens of thousands of people traveling to Charlotte, there's only so much business to go around.

The Democratic National Convention will in some ways be one big party. For delegates from Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and West Virginia, it all begins at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, which is hosting one of the convention's 12 opening parties Sunday.  

Large flower beds lead up to the pavilion’s entrance as part of the Summer of Color exhibit. There’s red, yellow, "and the blue just happened to land right in front of the building," Kara Newport laughed. She's the executive director, and she said having the color of the Democratic Party front and center wasn't planned.

But getting some sort of boost from the convention was, and that’s what many local businesses have been banking on for the past year and-a-half.

For the garden, Newport said the party itself won’t necessarily bring in more money than a wedding would.   

"However, with all of the attention leading up to it, we have seen a great increase in our regular attendance this summer," Newport said. "We think that will continue through the fall."

The convention has also brought more business to Consolidated Press, which Tim Mullaney runs. He said his shop has been printing large and small orders related to the convention since about a year ago.  

"And you know, that’s done nothing but go up as we’ve gone along," Mullaney said while one of his employees was working on volunteer credentials for the convention.

The employee used a big, loud machine to cut them down to notecard size, and then Mullaney took them over to a large drill.

Tim Mullaney drills holes in volunteer credentials for the DNC.
Credit Michael Tomsic

"We're going to put one quarter-inch hole kind of top-center," Mullaney said "Make one little minor adjustment here with the wrench. We'll power up, and we'll bring the drill down kind of in place."

A few seconds later, a small stack of the credentials are done.

"And you got to see the first pieces off the production line," Mullaney said. Only 9,900 some-odd credentials to go.

And that’s not even one of Consolidated Press’s biggest orders for the convention. Mullaney said his employees have worked late nights and long weekends to get everything done.

Tyler Lee has been working overtime, too, but that’s because he’s still trying to land business for the convention. He’s the assistant general manager at The Big Chill, an event space near uptown.

"You got about 7,000, 8,000 square feet here," Lee said while giving a tour of the space. "You got hand-painted murals, all of this is hand painted throughout the entire building. Then you have a built in stage, 16' by 32', and that’s normally bands, speakers, anything like that is normally what we have up there."
 

The main dining hall of The Big Chill will likely be this empty next week.
Credit Courtesy of The Big Chill

But next week, all this will be empty. Lee signed a contract with the convention’s host committee to reserve the space. He knew there were no guarantees, but he figured he’d get something. Two months ago, the committee told him he didn’t get anything.

"So while it feels like everybody else is somewhat prospering, we lost money for that week," Lee said.

The convention host committee’s Robyn Hamilton is one of the people in charge of reaching out to local businesses. She said there was a special effort to spend money with Charlotte companies, but "it’s just obviously not possible to necessarily do business with everyone."

Hamilton said the committee will announce after the convention exactly how much it spent with local businesses. She said the committee prioritized finding diverse businesses.

"Our diverse goal was to spend at least one-third of aggregate dollars with diverse companies, and I’m more than comfortable that we’ll meet that measure," Hamilton said.

The catering company Something Classic is an example. Jill Marcus is one of two women who own it.

In the Something Classic kitchens on Central Avenue, there were about 20 people working earlier this week. Marcus said that'll go up to 35 when Something Classic is preparing food for the media party and some other convention events.

Her kitchens will also have special guests.

"The FDA will be joining us just to be checking temperatures and making sure that we’re treating all the delegates’ food properly," Marcus said.

She that said her company will get a $1 million dollar boost from the convention, but that she feels for the less fortunate businesses.

"We were a little bit disappointed," Marcus said. "There's a lot of money that's not being spent in Charlotte, but I'm a good example of money that is being spent in Charlotte."

Getting that ratio just right is one of the key ways the host committee will determine if its outreach to local businesses was a success.