Now that Charlotte has met NASCAR’s hurry-hurry, rush-rush deadline for Hall of Fame proposals, perhaps we can double back and try to figure out some rather glaring outstanding issues with the whole project. After all, NASCAR has graciously given us six-months to second-guess ourselves.
First up, the funding. Raising the hotel occupancy tax from 6 percent to 8 percent would raise $65 million. Part of that would go to fund the hall and part to expand the adjacent convention center. Now, who pays that tax? Not hotels, but their guests. This is our first clue that something is up.
As the rest of North Carolina’s hotels quickly surmised, if Charlotte gets to claim millions more each year in potential marketing money, then that money can also be spent to try to coax people to come to Charlotte. It is a great deal for Charlotte’s hotels, no doubt. You get official government sanction to hit your current customers up for your future marketing costs. But there is something that undercuts this neat symmetry.
As backers of Charlotte bid have drilled into anyone within earshot, stock car racing was born-bred-and-breathes locally. There is no disputing that. The local NASCAR fan base is huge, loyal, and steeped in tradition. A well-done NASCAR hall/museum would certainly be attractive to them. But are they going to overnight in Charlotte hotels to visit the new venue or be day-trippers or side-trippers? If they don’t lay their heads to hotel pillows in Charlotte, those hotel tax revenue projections may be wildly off the mark. This issue is, of course, a subset of just how much actual new spending the facility would spur in Charlotte. Suffice it say that spending that is merely re-directed to the hall cannot not be counted as an added economic impact.
But it is was the final push to scrounge up enough land to make the proposal work that showed just how far down the memory-hole Charlotte has fallen. The city is on tap to end up with yet more land, this time adjacent to the I-277 interchange and valued at $20 million, under its control. A truly inspired move might’ve been to try to get rid of some of the land the city has carried as a tax-eating blackhole for years.
Acres of land the city bought up in the 1980s and 1990s to settle noise lawsuits brought by property owners near Charlotte-Douglas International Airport now sit adjacent to new I-485 exits. One parcel in particular, a 92-acre tract the city bought from the Church of God that one-time housed a camp-ground and the East Coast Bible College, has to be worth something now.
In fact, tax records indicate the county values the parcel at $3.7 million, or about a third what the city paid for it in December 1992. That’s about par-for-the-course for government investments. The city has also spent hundreds of thousands over the years clearing the site in preparation for, well, something if not a NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The point is that the city has been sucked into a losing game of trying to make previous “investments” in uptown – the Convention Center itself, the Westin Hotel, the $40 million trolley line – payoff by spending even more on adjacent sites even if it means stringing along other losing hands indefinitely. Now a $137.5 million, “once in a lifetime” racing museum is riding to uptown’s rescue. How will it all end?
Will Charlotte win NASCAR’s heart? Will NASCAR, a few months hence, announce “finalists” in the contest, the better to spur one last bump-up in the bids? Who knows who will win, but it is a good bet that local taxpayers will lose. They usually do.