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April 2011
Putting Charlotte Front and Center
By Amanda Pagliarini

     Ten full-to-the-brim rolodexes occupy fully one-third of Tim Newman’s desk, proof that the persona he displays on the streets of Charlotte is authentic. In a business community where many think it important to know him, he believes it important to know them.

     In his seventh year as CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitor’s Authority, most in Charlotte know Newman’s name and face, many know his title and where he works, and some could probably tell you what he oversees. But few understand the real meaning of the work he and his team do, and why it matters so much to our city.

 

Getting the Authority

     The Charlotte Regional Visitor’s Authority (CRVA) is responsible for marketing our destination through Visit Charlotte (formerly the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau), and overseeing the management and operations of Charlotte’s public facilities which include the Convention Center, Time Warner Cable Arena, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Bojangles’ Coliseum, and Ovens Auditorium.

     Newman was serving as president of Center City Partners when was he was tapped to run the newly formed CRVA by its City Council and mayor-appointed board of directors. A native North Carolinian, Newman was well qualified for the position. He attended UNC at Chapel Hill on a Morehead Scholarship obtaining a B.A. with Distinction in economics and political science, and later attended Columbia Business School in New York as a Lawrence Wien Fellow, obtaining an MBA.

     He worked for Morgan Stanley & Co.’s public finance unit in the southeastern coverage and sports transaction groups and for Wachovia Securities where he covered the Carolinas in both tax-exempt and sports finance. He then joined Beaver Sports Properties where he coordinated interests in five minor league baseball franchises and represented Mr. Beaver in his Major League Baseball efforts. He was named vice president and general manager of the Charlotte Knights, the position he held until becoming president of Charlotte Center City Partners, where he was responsible for the marketing and management of Charlotte’s Central Business District.

     As the CEO of CRVA, Newman is charged with elevating Charlotte as a destination to attract events to town that will grow the local hospitality industry. He describes his role as “head coach for tourism.” One of his first self-appointed tasks was what he refers to as “a listening tour,” meeting with various groups. Among the comments heard most frequently at those meetings was that there was “nothing to do around the Convention Center.”

     “We had no destination asset,” Newman explains. With meeting planners as his target audience, this was unarguably a profound void. “Meeting planners look for three things when selecting a destination: amenities, affordability, and access.”

     Newman notes that with Charlotte Douglas International Airport and a lower cost of living relative to other parts of the country, we had two of the three factors. “But two out of three wasn’t going to put Charlotte on the map.”

 

Playing in a New Arena

     In 2000, Charlotte had been put on the short list of cities to host the Republican National Convention (RNC), but was ultimately passed over for Philadelphia. The RNC felt Charlotte was too low on hotel rooms and took issue with the fact that our coliseum was miles outside of our city center.

     “We got on the short list because of relationships, but we never could have pulled it off,” admits Newman.

     Since the CRVA was created in 2004, Newman has rallied to build a destination that could. Over the last seven years, he has been instrumental, and at times the ringleader, in bringing the city Time Warner Cable Arena, upgrades to the Convention Center, and most notably, the NASCAR Hall of Fame. And when it came to other city additions outside of the CRVA’s mandate, such as the EpiCentre, LYNX light rail, and the Cultural Campus, Newman worked to support them.

     In an ‘If you build it, they will come’ fashion, The Ritz-Carlton, Starwood Hotels (Aloft Hotel), and Hotel Sierra took note of Charlotte’s growth and in turn built facilities, giving the city a needed increase in hotel rooms in close proximity of the Convention Center.

     When the city chased down The NASCAR Hall of Fame, the vision for the Hall was bigger than just a facility that would attract fans. With the Hall came additional meeting and convention space that could accommodate groups of up to 2,500, intentionally adjacent to the Convention Center.

     “The totality of these additions has elevated Charlotte as a contender for major convention and tourism opportunities. These facilities allow us to play in an arena we couldn’t play in before,” affirms Newman.

     CRVA Board Treasurer and President of Bissell Hotels Joe Hallow says, “Tim has been instrumental in propelling Charlotte to an international tourism destination. There are very few that love Charlotte and the region as much as Tim Newman does.”

     To date, the most newsworthy convention wins for the city have been the 2010 National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meeting and the 2012 Democratic National Committee Convention (DNCC). There are those who feel the DNCC has become an over-boasted, talked-to-death sound bite, but to those who have worked to grow Charlotte into a destination, it is a grand testament to city progress.

 

What Does it All Matter?

     Last month, close to 200,000 visitors came to Charlotte for the CIAA Tournament. They left behind close to $40 million of their dollars. Since 2006, the CIAA Tournament has brought $156 million to the Charlotte economy.

     One of the CRVA’s first signature deals, the Tournament just renewed their contract thru 2014.

     According to the Hospitality and Tourism Alliance, the Charlotte hospitality industry generates over $3 billion in annual revenue and employs more than 60,000 people in Mecklenburg County.

     Events held in May 2010 brought in a record $400 million in economic impact to the city. Included in these events were the NASCAR Hall of Fame grand opening, the NRA convention, and the Quail Hollow Championship.

     But it’s not just the nationally coveted events that Newman and the CRVA woo. Newman illustrates, “We’ll have a big CIAA one weekend, then a tech conference for a week, and then later on the Mary Kay convention will be in town.”

     Newman considers events with 3,000 to 4,000 attendees to be their “bread and butter”, of which they have 20 to 25 weeks a year. “We don’t want to be Orlando or Las Vegas,” explains Newman, which he says are considered prime convention cities, “but we want to be able to compete with them for business.”

     As Newman puts it, “People come to town, spend their money, and don’t require a school seat…it’s the cleanest kind of economic development.”

     Aside from the revenue brought into the city, Newman points out the number of subsequent opportunities that tourism offers. Executives brought to town for a conference create a bridge for those at the Chamber or Charlotte Regional Partnership whose mission it is to entice companies to move to our region.

     Though Center City Partners are leading the charge to bring retail to uptown, Newman stands beside them in their quest. “Retailers want to see 20,000 residents in a given location. Right now, uptown has about 15,000.” But Newman makes the argument, “On any given day, tourism can add 2,000 to 40,000 to that number.”

     “His job is very challenging but he has an amazing grasp of the big picture,” attests Tom Sasser, CRVA board member and owner of Harper’s Restaurant Group.

 

Coach Under Fire

     Despite the successes, Newman has received backlash from some city leaders, most recently involving the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

     During the bidding process, the CRVA predicted attendance of 800,000 during the Hall’s first year. Though this estimate was arrived at with the help of a research company, Newman admits he wasn’t concerned about the validity of the number at that point in the process.

     Additionally, sponsorship dollars projected in 2006—a time when the country as a whole was blissfully unaware of what lie ahead in ’08 and ’09—have fallen short. The Hall now forecasts $1.3 million in losses, in contrast to the expected $620,000 in profits.

     But Newman doesn’t seem worried. He references Charlotte’s history with new projects, noting the dismal outlook given to the fate of Time Warner Cable Arena and the U.S. National Whitewater Center, both now operating profitably.

     “When the new arena went up, you couldn’t find anyone to say anything positive about it. Now anyone with a lick of sense sees what a valuable asset it is,” Newman says. Like the Whitewater Center that only recently found its way to profitability, Newman says they’ll work out the kinks and get it right.

     Despite falling way below the initial projection, the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s actual expected attendance figures of between 250,000 and 350,000 are on par with those anticipated at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., according to an ESPN source, and are ahead of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

     While direct numbers from the Hall of Fame have been low, Newman points to revenue streams most people don’t see. “We have $225 million in confirmed events that booked their business in the Hall of Fame Ballroom.”

     The Hall’s studio spaces maintained by NASCAR Media Group were one element that impressed the DNC when touring Charlotte. The DNC typically has to build a separate tent to accommodate the media, but because of the capabilities and space afforded by the Hall, the media covering the DNC will be housed there.

     “I’ll always admit when I’m wrong,” Newman contends. “But the critic doesn’t mean anything to me…unless you’re offering up an idea.”

 

Looking Ahead

     Newman is very clear about the CRVA’s goals for the future and the challenges he needs to address to achieve them. For a man who just booked the President of the United States and all of his friends, you might be surprised to learn what Newman has his sights set on for the future—amateur sports.

     “I won’t say anything is recession-proof, but amateur sporting events are recession-resistant,” Newman says. When a kid is participating in an activity, Newman points out, the family comes in tow. But in order to capture that business, Charlotte is going to need more sports facilities. “Right now we’re losing a lot of that business to other cities with great complexes.”

     Additionally, with the success of the Belk Bowl (formerly the Meineke Bowl), Newman lets on that he intends to work towards bringing a signature Labor Day football game. To those who know Newman well, his vision for growing family tourism opportunities through sports is a business decision likely born from his greatest passions—his children and the Tarheels.

     When it comes to the DNC, Newman says Charlotte will be an order taker moving forward. Locally, Will Miller has been appointed as acting executive director of the committee referred to as “Charlotte in 2012,” but once the DNC sets up office here in June, they run the show, calling on local support as needed.

     Newman urges, “You’re crazy to get out of town that week.” He and his team are already planning special events for the regular Charlottean who might not otherwise have any involvement with the Convention.

     Though he’s in charge of bringing outsiders to our city, Newman stresses how important it is for Charlotte’s residents to know what an amazing place it is. “If you don’t believe it, please let me spend a weekend with you and show you around town,” he says with an eagerness that suggests he means it.

     Whether it’s the strides the CRVA has made under his direction or simply his character and inclusive spirit, Newman has the respect of his constituents and colleagues. “Serving on his board of directors for six years provided me a tremendous education as a leader for tourism, and I am fortunate to have learned from such a great mentor,” says Sally Ashworth, executive director of Visit Lake Norman.

     When asked about Newman, Sid Smith, executive director of both the Charlotte Area Hotel Association and the North Carolina Business Leadership Network says, “You can reach him, and he always answers. No person or entity is too small. I don’t care what your stature or position in the community is, you always walk away with the sense that ‘He’s one of us.”

     For one of the city’s busiest people who just offered to the community his services as a personal guide—you can’t argue with that.

Amanda Pagliarini is a Charlotte based freelance writer.
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