News: Charlotte Exclusives

NASCAR Go Home

Final chance for Charlotte to wise up

Entering the final turn of the NASCAR Hall of Fame sweepstakes, Charlotte is determined to embarrass itself and squander scarce resources in the process. The city simply does not have tens of millions of dollars with which to subsidize a highly profitable entertainment operation like NASCAR.

There is no debating NASCAR’s popularity in the region, or nationwide for that matter. This is precisely why NASCAR does not need public money to make a Hall of Fame a success in Charlotte. But of course NASCAR is asking for money, it is what almost all businesses have been conditioned to do by city officials far, far too eager to hand out incentive packages. In fact, NASCAR’s whirlwind tour of the competing Hall of Fame sites is a grand site-shopping effort designed to wring as much public money from municipalities as possible.

The site-shopping competition is an all-too familiar one, and pretty cynical as one North Carolina construction exec described his smaller-scale site-shopping effort:

I hate to give the example, but we decided very early in the game we were going to locate somewhere in the Winston-Salem/Greensboro area and narrowed it down to Kernersville rather rapidly; but spent a lot of time in Siler City and Asheboro and other communities hearing their story, primarily to use as a leverage to get all we could out of Winston-Salem. Now I give you that as a local example. But a more recent one – in Dickson, Tennessee, we had about ten west Tennessee municipalities chasing us with all kinds of offers; although we knew through the whole process it was going to be Dickson. And it was unfair and probably, as bad as it sounds, we used the others to get what we could out of where we were going in the first place. . . . you know, I’ve been around it a long time; but to me it’s the process. Usually, you know early where you are going, and you use your leverage.

Substitute Charlotte and Kansas City and Atlanta for Siler City, Kernersville, and Asheboro and you’ll understand what NASCAR is up to in the next few weeks. Using its, ahem, leverage.

And although the competition is billed as being wide-open, there is one element of Charlotte’s bid that might be difficult for it to overcome. Having a US Airways hub does give corporate execs plenty of flights to choose from, but at higher prices than your typical NASCAR fan might want to spend. Discount carriers AirTran and Independence Air are helping to reverse the trend, but Charlotte has consistently had some of the highest average airfares in the country, third-highest in fact by one account.

NASCAR may well steer clear of locating its star attraction in a place that will cost more for fans just to visit, thereby leaving less left to spend on NASCAR goodies at the HoF. Charlotte boosters could try to blunt this negative by pointing out all the NASCAR fans who live within driving distance of the city, but that sets up an interesting catch-22. If most hall visitors drive to town, chances are many will not be spending the night in city hotels and paying the hotel-motel tax the city needs to fund the construction and, one assumes knowing NASCAR, pay for the Hall’s ongoing operating costs too.

If hotel-motel revenues do not materialize, this could leave the city with no place to turn but general revenues with which to pay for NASCAR’s building and all of its associated costs (see Convention Center, empty). Of course, this outcome would not trouble NASCAR in the slightest. It is all still free, i.e. taxpayer, money.