Saturday, February 19, 2011

So maybe Lynn Wheeler was right after all...

About a dozen years ago, Lynn Wheeler was among a small group of leaders who tried to woo the Republican National Committee into awarding Charlotte the 2000 GOP convention.

We came close that time – making the RNC short list but losing to Philly. Officials thought we were a little thin on hotel rooms then, and although they liked our coliseum, they weren’t so hot about it being located miles from our downtown.

Wheeler, then a city councilwoman and chair of the economic development committee, saw that deficiency, too. So she led an effort to get an arena, along with other projects, uptown. Then she angered voters who rejected that referendum package by leading a successful City Council arena vote a year later.

She lost her political career because of it.

But she was right.

“I feel a little validated,” says Wheeler, sitting on her living room couch just outside uptown, which is still buzzing with the news of the Democratic National Convention coming here next year. It’s a big deal – a $150- million to $260 million impact, say studies of 2008 convention cities Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver – and it comes at a time any city could use that kind of jolt.

And it doesn’t happen, this convention nod, without an uptown arena.

“I knew it was the right thing to do,” Wheeler says.

She is a public relations consultant now, but she’s still as connected as anyone else in Charlotte. She’s on the phone each day with power players – and she sells that access, that ability to make things happen. It’s what she liked best about her 14 years on the council and time as mayor pro tem.

She doesn’t miss, however, waking up on Sunday morning to read the paper and, as she says, “see how many ways people could creatively call me a b-i-t...”

Yeah, we remember.

It’s a reminder that the arena wasn’t the sole blow that knocked Wheeler out of politics. She was, a decade ago, as overexposed in Charlotte as someone could be in the old media age. She wasn’t just Lynn Wheeler, Mayor Pro Tem, but Lynn Wheeler, Mayor Pro Tem and former debutante and willing subject of media stories that called her “coquettish” and touched on fashion and hair and once, yes, her bedroom.

Then there was the political mishandling of the arena. It began, she says now, when council members decided to let voters weigh in on a referendum in 2001 that proposed raising taxes to build the arena and several other projects. “We could’ve voted it on our own,” she says, “but we were all chicken, and I was one of them.”

When voters shook their heads at the referendum, Wheeler led the charge the next year for a new plan that included only the arena. This one was different, she says even now, and she’s correct: The new plan said the arena would be paid with a hotel-motel tax, not any taxes on residents, which was the main beef of arena opponents the first time around.

But Wheeler lost that narrative, and when the council approved the arena on its own, she finished last in the next Republican primary. A half-hearted comeback bid in 2005 did no better.

And the arena? It’s done what Wheeler and others predicted it would. It’s brought money from events such as the annual CIAA tournament to Charlotte. It’s been a contributing catalyst for new uptown development that includes the EpiCentre and Daniel Levine’s First Ward project. That development has expanded the property tax base, which benefits not only uptown. “It ripples out through the whole community,” she says.

That was, by the way, another narrative that arena proponents lost a decade ago, the one about uptown growth helping the rest of Charlotte. It’s a tug we come back to often – not just uptown vs. everyone else, but about how and if we want to grow.

Sometimes we don’t make the best choices – the NASCAR Hall of Fame says hello – and some people, for sure, will never be sold on the arena being one of the good ones.

But the woman who sold it the hardest – and maybe lost the most?

“I don’t regret it,” says Lynn Wheeler now. “Not one second.”


Anonymous said...

Good analysis Peter. Thanks.

Lynn, you were right about the arena. Thanks. I just wish it was even bigger.

Timothy Whitson said...

Maybe it was the "right" thing to do; for a small part of the population that can profit and benefit from it. In the larger scheme of things, we elect officials to voice OUR opinion about what ought to be done. That doesn't include spending our hard-earned tax dollars to infuse self-esteem into a few rich folks that want to be able to brag about how "world class" we're becoming. Last time I checked, NBA teams (the biggest tenant of the arena) are a private business, and charge so much for tickets that the average citizen who funds their basketball courts could probably never afford to attend a game.

Anonymous said...

I miss Lynn Wheeler!!!

Anonymous said...

This is the dumbest premise in a publication rife with dumb premises: Lynn Wheeler was "right" about the uptown arena because Charlotte landed one big convention.

Maybe we'll get some Olympic trial races at the white water center - then we can proclaim it was a fabulous idea all along, whatever the cost!

The Avett Brothers are playing Bojangles Arena on April 9. This proves it was a good idea to build the venue in 1955!

Wiley Coyote said...

As much as Lynn or anyone else tries to justify or validate themselves by having the arena downtown, the fact is it was built against the wishes of the people.

People are right about one thing and that is the old coliseum was 10 times better than the one we have now, with more parking and easy access.

But that's OK, we'll spend a couple of mil retrofitting the downtown arena to fit the whims of politicians, all the while we close schools and layoff teachers.

Sorry Lynn. You don't get a pass from me.

Anonymous said...

It was the right move.

Anonymous said...

The Time-Wheeler Arena

This fable, The Lady or the Arena, was lucky to have been played-out in America where when the public says “off with her head” it is only a figure of speech.

That little ploy to get the arena, contributed mightily to the defeat of the 2005 school bond. Most voters didn’t give a rat’s behind that the arena was a city deal and the school bonds were the county’s. They only knew that the next big budget item on the ballot would go down in flames.

When the 2007 bond finally passed in Nov. 2007 it was the high watermark for the economy for the next three and half years. The county was only able to sell half of the bonds. Northern Mecklenburg county was left with numerous worn-out schools and over-filled classrooms that couldn’t be fixed. The County Commission had to authorize COPs to build six schools because of the Arena folly.

Good job, young lady!

Bolyn McClung

SBull said...

Thanks Lynn. We wouldn't have the Bobcats either. The mistake was building a 1970's inspired all purpose arena on Tyvola Rd.

Anonymous said...

News must be so slow, why we beating this dead horse. No one cares about the bobcats. No one cares about the CIAA. Get the ACC tournament, and then you can have something to gloat about. Until then, all wheeler did was massage the 'egos' of the elite who live uptown. No one in there right mind demolishes a perfectly good arena to build one five miles closer to uptown.

The only thing that was ever 'validated' about wheeler is she was/is a few fries short of a happy meal.

Anonymous said...

Let's see. The convention will bring a bunch of money to town that will benefit uptown businesses (and the out of town corporations that own them) for a week or so. After they and their money are gone, the citizens of Charlotte-Mecklenburg will still be paying for the coliseum they didn't want for the next how many years?

Art Rouse said...

When I moved to Charlotte in 1989, downtown was dead. The only restaurant open after dark was Jonathan's and it was scary to be on the streets. Oh, and you had this big old coliseum out in the boonies where everyone had to drive, it had two ways out of the parking lot and took 30 minutes to get out of the lot. When we had the final four, I think we had every bus in the state hauling people from the coliseum to their hotels.

Fast forwart to today; I can be uptown, parked and in a restaurant with friends in 10 minutes. After the game, even if it's a rare sellout, I can be home in Huntersville in 30 minutes.

The Uptown Arena was the right thing to do and is was visionaries like Lynn that believed in what this city could become.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Timothy Whitson.

Lynn wasn't right.

I was surprised they used the referendum, but when the public voted the arena down, they had the gall to vote to build it anyway.

Richard said...

Lynn was right! Thanks. Now it is time for the city council to follow her lead and lets get the parks projects built. Do it Now. The DNC will be the biggest event in Charlotte's history and we must take advantage. Charlotte must shine, for the world will be watching. To our leaders, do not let the people who voted against the arena cloud your vision on what needs to be done. They will be loud, but you must ignore them. Do whats best for Charlotte and not whats best for you. Charlotte's future is in your hands.

Anonymous said...

I really don't see claiming the DNC as any vindication for the arena. It was a mistake then and is a mistake now. One major event in 5 years is not a huge success story, but Peter St. Onge and the CO were waiting to grab the first straw to claim victory. No matter how shallow the victory.

Anonymous said...

The now demolished 30 million$ 1988 built 24,000 seat westside Tyvola Rd Arena beside CDI Jetport was a million times more attractive and better than that cramped overpriced ugly small 17,000 seat 300 million sardine can downtown.

Anonymous said...

So basically what you're saying is we got the convention because we have an arena uptown?

pstonge said...

Good morning, all. Thanks for the good thoughts on both sides of this debate, but a reminder: Let's keep it clean.

To anon 7:44: Given that we didn't get the 2000 convention in part because of no uptown arena, I think having one likely helped a lot.

But as I wrote, Wheeler was right not only because of the DNC, but because her predictions of uptown economic activity have been realized, and that's good for everyone.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said... The now demolished 30 million$ 1988 built 24,000 seat westside Tyvola Rd Arena beside CDI Jetport was a million times more attractive and better.....
February 20, 2011 7:38 AM
Agreed...and even though it was on the other side of town for me, it was a lot more convenient. I also liked the ample parking, and the smooth traffic flow. I still feel it was a mistake to replace it.

Anonymous said...

I understand now. A possible $150 million "local impact", a nebulous figure at best, after we shell out $40 million in incentives to the DNC, justifies a $330 million gift to a guy from out of town who wanted to start a new basketball team. Yes, it was a terrible idea to build a bigger arena on Tyvola (sorry, but that doesn't fit my description of "the boonies"), a 5 lane road that empties onto a limited access highway at both ends, surrounded by parking lot. A center city street with no parking at the arena itself is a much better idea and high rise parking ramps that funnel people out onto center city streets with traffic signals every couple hundred feet is a much better idea.

Anonymous said...

Uh.... no!

Anonymous said...

Nothing like a good Lynn Wheeler story to rile up the local tea party.

Roger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Totally disagree!

Anonymous said...

Ever listen to Lynn on the local loudmouth AM station on Fridays nights?

She has very little grasp of the issues and sometimes it takes the host to complete her thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Let's wait until the final $$$$ in the red before we declare victory. Mecklenburg County has let it slip that it will need to come up with $$$$ for police and others. Gosh, who do you think will pay for this? Politicians can always justify spending money when they go against the will of the voting public. It was a sham to even let the public vote on the referendum. So much for voter input. Wonder what that bottle blond thinks of the Whitewater Center and the Hall of Shame...those have proven to be big draws, haven't they?

Anonymous said...

If it was such a good idea, why wasn't a decent roof and warranty provided when it was constructed? Just another new thingy for the uptown crowd to justify their existence. Since when was it government's job to provide thugball arenas? The voters clearly said no and it was forced down their throats, yet we are expected to have a voice in government.

John said...

Peter, please don't say anything positive about Charlotte, especially Uptown. It just incites the nattering nabobs of negativism even more!

Anonymous said...

Will there be a Democractic party come convention time?

Will there be a United States?

PS- Lynn Wheeler wanted a downtown stadium in the hopes of winning a DNC or RNC convention? That's crazy.

Skylark Thibedeau said...

Uptown is still not Manhattan, the French Quarter, nor even Beale Street. What kind of fake Potemkin Village is the CCCP going to setup in 2012 to provide the Donkeys with a faux World Class impression?

I bet they spend millions to put Solar Panels everywhere to give a green look but the panels won't be attached to anything. The faux LEED Look.

EuroCat said...

Absolutely ridiculous, Peter.

The outrageous giveaway that is Wheeler's Arena is in no way validated by the arrival of the DNC convention.

That arena will ultimately cost the taxpayers approximately $450 million in direct costs, including interest. Because it is city-owned, it pays no property taxes. Because of the disgraceful contract with Bob Johnson and now Michael Jordan that was hammered out by Pam Syfert, Pat McCrory, and Wheeler, the city receives no direct revenue from this fiasco.



Circus? Ka-ching...right into Jordan's pocket. Conventions? Ka-ching...right into Jordan's pocket. The Charlotte Checkers? Ka-ching...right into Jordan's pocket (and out of the pockets of the taxpayers as the Checkers vacated Bojangles Coliseum).

The downside of the arena boondoggle far exceeds any upside, and always will. No matter what "benefits" allegedly accrue to the city as a result of this massive "ripoff and giveaway", the costs will always exceed them. A few new sports bars do not create a vibrant and "complete" downtown; in fact, the art museums probably add more to the overall fabric of downtown and its activity than does the arena, but at approximately 1/10 the taxpayer cost.

And the excuse that "it is hotel-motel tax, not property tax" is getting so old it's starting to stink like last month's garbage. First of all, it consumes all of the "tourism" taxes that were in place at the time, leaving nothing for any other tourism-promoting fact, I vividly remember then-Councilman Harold Cogdell pointing out that very "all eggs in one basket" problem at the time. So, other worthwhile projects - that could have been funded with "tourism" taxes - have been paid for in other ways, including with property taxes. Police and other "overhead" costs have also increased as a result of the arena's presence, and these costs are also paid for with property taxes.

Any number of things involving the financing, the ownership, the tax situation, the contracts, and the timing of the arena, as well as the ridiculous loss the taxpayers took from blowing up the "old" coliseum and selling the land at fire-sale prices (said land currently resembling post-WW2 Hiroshima) might have made it acceptable. It isn't that having a downtown arena and a sub-par basketball team is necessarily a bad thing, but the process, the cost, and the "gift that keeps on taking" aspect of it are bad things, and they're all on Wheeler and her cronies on City Council at the time.

The DNC Convention is a sort-of-good thing. That's all it is. It is not a great thing. It is not a particularly important thing in the life and history of Charlotte. It is a gigantic "ho-hum" for most residents of the region, a forgettable blip on Charlotte's radar screen. Most financial benefits will be transitory at best. There is seldom if ever any demonstrable long-term benefit to a city that hosts a party convention, and this one will be no different. The DNC Convention certainly can not, and should not, be used as some sort of retroactive justification for the disgraceful arena decision.

I'm disappointed that you said "but she was right", Peter. I'm not disappointed by Ms. Wheeler's blatant self-promotion and justification; that's to be expected. I'd be disappointed if she weren't continuing to make excuses for her sorry tenure as a city councilwoman. Reading her self-righteous excuse-making reminded me a bit of listening to Donald Rumsfeld's recent self-justification for the appallingly-badly-executed Iraq war: he was totally right, you know. Just ask him.

People like Donald Rumsfeld and Lynn Wheeler continue to remind us that glaring human flaws coupled with massive egos will always result in some monumantally bad decisions as part of the political process.

Larry said...

How about directing those who will be watching this whole thing unfold and how much it will end up costing we taxpayers once it folds up the tents to so that we can at least do some damage control.

We know the media is all agog over the convention and we will be the watchdogs over the spending and the like, hopefully giving some basis to their reasoning.

Sandra said...

I enjoyed reading the comments and Peter is correct. Be civil. The "thugball" reference was unnecessary and divisive. I am black and many, many of us did (do)not support the arena. Another commenter was correct, the average citizen cannot afford to go to the games. As for the uptown park and any other goodies, this community needs to put education first or we can forget about this world class fetish. What's world class about a city that is the local schools. When I say local schools, I am not just referring to CMS. Our children need more options, not just one. What's world class about a community that would rather invest in jails, arenas, parks (Hall of Fame, Whitewater, etc) but not the children? All we're headed for is/are higher crime statistics.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. Wrong. Having a select and elitist few, swing backdoor deals in order to invalidate a public referendum, (direct democracy at its best), just plain stinks. I'm happy that the DNC will hold their event here. But your argument is illogical and inane.

pstonge said...

Thanks, all.

Euro: This isn't only about the DNC, but the economic dynamic uptown. There's no denying the proprty tax base has expanded. How much would that have happened without the arena? Hard to say, but there's no denying it's a catalyst for tax revenue that's significant. And the DNC is more than a financial blip, too.

Appreciate your thoughtful disagreement.


EuroCat said...

Oh, and for the record: the Bobcats (that would be Billionaire Mike) are getting Five Million Dollars in rent for the use of "their" arena...and that's just rent. Pure profit. All overhaed costs (moving and storing Bobcats' equipment, for example) are also being paid by the DNC. It's all clearly spelled out in the contract with the DNC.

So how much in rent are the actual owners - that would be the city and, especially the city's taxpayers - getting?


Such are the rules of Lynn's "gift that keeps on taking".

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...the last time I checked the arena was funded through a hotel tax (not a property tax) and was generating enough revenue to fund its own operations versus having to dip in the City coffers. I think some people are just philosophically opposed to local government having a hand in economic development period; financially, it looks like a good call and a driver for further development in Charlotte. I’ve only been in Charlotte a few years, but I can clearly see how the arena makes Charlotte a more attractive destination for conventions, concerts, business relocations and individuals.

Anonymous said...

It was a great move to build the arena. For those complaining about high prices or parking, it's obvious you have made no effort to attend a game in the new arena. Tickets are less than going to catch a movie at the theatre, and parking is a breeze.

Do you guys not remember going to an event at the Coliseum on Tyvola? One way in and one way out.. It would usually take 30-45 minutes just to get out of the parking lot onto Tyvola. I can now make it home faster than I could even get out of the parking lot at the old arena.

The referendum was a referendum against George Shinn & Ray Woolridge more so than a vote on or against the arena. I can't remember the voter turnout but I think it was around 12%. Hardly a compelling reason not to build it.

BTW- I'm white, love the Bobcats and have attended many concerts at the new arena including Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Aerosmith & Lenny Cravit..

I'm a Republican and can see the economic benefit of having the Democrats come to Charlotte for a week of hotel room being sold out, all the restaurants full, media from around the world etc... All possible because of the leadership of Lynn and the other council members that had the vision and courage to do the right thing for the city.

pstonge said...


It's a stretch to include free rent something that's "taking." Property taxes? Sure. But rent is money that wouldn't have come to the city if the arena hadn't been built.


Anonymous said...

Please .... And now for the rest of the story.

It seems premediated that the whiny NAACP never says a word about that 400 million in taxations locally for the new state of the art NBA arena that could have not only saved all the inner city schools from being closed but the programs they whine about being closed?

Sounds like somebody want their cake and eat it too ...

Anonymous said...

Here are some quotes from Lynn Wheeler regarding the arena:

August, 1999
I do not think the city council should make a decision on an arena without the acquiescence of the people.

January, 2000
I think a third party needs to own the arena so it pays property taxes.

April, 2000
It is not the responsibility of the city council to present proposals to the Hornets to keep them in town.

March 30, 2001
If we ask the public for their opinion and then we don’t abide by it, we are in essence spitting in their face.

May 13, 2001
The will of the people is at stake. If we blatantly disregard this vote, we are in real trouble with future referendums. In my opinion, the only way we could fund the package if it fails is to have another referendum.

June 6, 2001
(Our options include) funding the projects with a vote, which I would not support.
November 7, 2001 (in response to a constituent's email:
Don't worry. I doubt I will touch this (a new arena) with a ten foot pole. The security of our city and economic development (job creation) will be my number 1 priorities.

November 16, 2001
It's not appropriate for the Council to discuss a new arena.

Anonymous said...

Peter (in response to your 11:06 comment):

And no money would be taken from the citizens in ANY capacity had the arena not been built. Had the arena not been built that land would be in private hands generating property taxes and the $100 million cost (including interest) of the Tyvola coliseum wouldn't have been flushed down the toilet (along with those "art shrubs" that were so artistically grand that NOBODY wanted them and they got destroyed too).

There are DOZENS of independent research studies that PROVE that sports arenas are NET ECONOMIC NEGATIVES for cities, and NOT ONE that proves they're net positives.

I can BURY YOU in research on this topic if you like. Or you can rely on one washed-up hack politician as your sole source.

Your choice. Let me know if you're interested in information rather than propaganda and I will contact you privately.

Anonymous said...

The truly laughable line is that the traveling DNC comedy show will cost only 40 million and even more hilarious that they will pick up the tab with a check in the mail once they get the hell out of Dodge.

Any more good jokes? Ha Ha

EuroCat said...

But Peter,

Here's my beef about the rent: the city (taxpayers) owns it. They don't collect any property tax on it. They used public money, built it, and then simply turned it over to Johnson - now Jordan - not only rent-free, but with the opportunity for the tenant to rent the publicly-owned facility for his own profit!

To me, it's manifestly unfair. If the city was going to pay 100% for the arena - as they did - then every user, whether the Bobcats or Elton John or the DNC - should be paying rent to the city. Otherwise, Johnson (now Jordan) should have paid for his own arena - keeeping all income, and paying property taxes on the facility.

As it stands now, Jordan has the best of every possible world. Contrast this situation to the privately-owned Bank of America Stadium, which currently pays property tax of over $2 million per year. In that case, Jerry Richardson is entitled to the rent from events such as the Continental Tire Bowl: he paid for the stadium, he pays taxes on it, it's his business, he's entitled to the profits.

Not so with the arena and Jordan, and that horrible contract arrangement is yet another facet of the horrible arena deal foisted on the city by the Lynn Wheeler council.

My other beef with the whole thing is that it is just not all that much "bang for the buck". I am frequently accused of being "liberal" because I believe that it is totally appropriate for the government - whether federal, state, or local - to undertake projects that tend to be "quality of life" or even "economic development" generators. However, such projects should be evaluated based on total cost versus total return. The arena does not return anywhere near the value that $450 million (remember, I use that figure because it inclusdes interest, extra "overhead" borne by the city, maintenence over the 20-year life of the debt, as well as the initial construction cost) would return if spent more wisely (in my opinion, of course). The increase in office construction was not in response to the arena. The increase in residential tax base was not in response to the arena (in fact, the simple addition of a grocery store probably catalyzed many times more residential development than did the arena).

I'm all in favor of using taxpayer money to better a community. Shoveling taxpayer money directly into the pockets of people who are already multimillionaires or billionaires, however, does not strike me as good stewardship of the resources.

Anonymous said...

Dead wrong - the Tyvola coliseum was paid for (Shinn was going to pay for the retrofit himself). We are on the hook for millions (400 million plus interest) that is one more reason why we cannot pay for much we really need in this area. When you cannot go to the library remember part of that reason is the arena. When schools don't have the books they need, remember the same, etc., etc.

pstonge said...


Again, I don't dispute that there could have been property taxes collected on the property. Characterizing rent as money taken from us, however, is a stretch.

Anon, 11:30: Please send me the "dozens" of studies. I didn't take any one person's word on the benefits of the arena in Charlotte. I've talked to a number of people on each side of the issue. Advocates point to real property tax expansion from which the arena was a contributing catalyst.


Anonymous said...

>> the simple addition of a grocery store

But the grocery store adjacent to the arena (Reid's) closed. Zink closed (but then re-opened at SouthPark). Arpa closed. GW Fins closed.

And let's not forget that EpiCentre (which PSt.O jumps up and down about) is an absolute financial disaster with everyone in town in some kind of lawsuit over it.

Of course the difference between EpiCentre and the arena is that EpiCentre is PRIVATELY owned and therefore the people involved have THEIR OWN money in the game, while the arena is simply a taxpayer liability.

Anonymous said...

Peter 11:46

You claim to have spoken to people on both sides yet you devote an entire article to Wheeler without a single quote from any one of the 57,545 people who voted NO on the arena.

And then in your answer where you claim you've spoken to people on both sides you AGAIN parrot the "advocates" side without a quote from the folks who OVERWHELMINGLY WON the referendum. Stop lying about being 'fair and balanced'.

Anonymous said...

"Do you guys not remember going to an event at the Coliseum on Tyvola? One way in and one way out.. It would usually take 30-45 minutes just to get out of the parking lot onto Tyvola. I can now make it home faster than I could even get out of the parking lot at the old arena."

OMG this is ficticiously outrageous a fabrication and defies logic not to mention the Hornets PACKED the arena 4 straight years for a record that still stands creating traffic jams naturally.

In the beginning due to the huge sell out crowds there were traffic problems but anyone who knew the area was aware of 10 different ways in and out NOT just one.

Once Tyvola Rd expansion was completed 1-2 yrs later even that was solved plus the huge open air 360 degree sloped parking was MUCH better than downtown decks. Not even close.

The massive colosal teal Dome at the top crest of the 360 degree long sloped graded with its modern Vegas style colorful teal and purple neon lighting from a distance looked like some massive mega space ship resting on its launch pad. This was not to mention the greenway natural wooded surroundings with exquisite landscaping.
Nothing like it in pro-sports then or now.

pstonge said...

Anon, 12:06: That's a good question. With columns, I try to research both sides of an issue and then give my opinion on it. I agree with the advocates on this one.

I've noticed that the cost of the arena seems to be going up by the hour this morning. The arena was about $265 million in construction, and Euro is correct that there's interest on top of that. I think his $450 million total is high, but we're all dealing with hypotheticals, to a degree.



Anonymous said...


Care to identify the "number of people" you spoke with who do not share the Wheeler take on the arena?

pstonge said...

Anon, 12:42: When I write columns, I try to educate my opinion as much as possible, and the best way to do that is talk to folks who are willing to share their thoughts. Those are often off-the-record conversations, so that people can feel comfortable hashing out issues with me.


Warren Cooksey said...

I also helped work on bringing the 2000 RNC Convention to Charlotte, and I don't think the Tyvola coliseum was a negative. During the site visit, the security people loved it due to its proximity to the airport and the ability to control access.

After all, if a center-city arena was a major concern to the RNC back then, why did they pick Philadelphia and use the First Union (now Wells Fargo) Center? I don't know anyone who walked the 3+ miles from Center City Philadelphia to the convention site. We took buses or cars through the security perimeter.

Charlotte's primary weakness in 1998 was more likely the number of full-service hotel rooms. Remember, we didn't even have the Westin then.

Anonymous said...


Funny how Lynn Wheeler had no problem going "on the record" yet you claim EVERYBODY ELSE you spoke to wanted to stay confidential.

I know for a fact you didn't reach out to the referendum leaders who led the fight against the arena in 2001 - I know that because I am one of them.

You'll come out of all this a lot better if you stop the lying now.

EuroCat said...

Peter is correct: my $450 million figure is an estimate, but here's how I arrived at it.

Construction cost (provided by Peter): $265,000,000

Now, although bonds like the arena bonds generally have non-linear repayment schedules, it is reasonable to treat the payments like mortgage payments to arrive at an average figure. Using the trusty HP-12C calculator, the annual payment on a $265,000,000 loan at 4.5% interest for 20 years would be $19,494,907.

Multiply that annual payment by 20 years, and the total capital payout is $389,898,148.

The city is "contractually obligated" to provide additional police for traffic control around the arena (from general fund tax dollars). Initially, this amount was $808,000 per year (Charlotte Business Journal: ), and has fluctuated as Charlotte grapples with budget problems. Figure approximately $500,000 taxpayer dollars per year, for another $10,000,000 over 20 years.

Running total: $399,898,148

The city actually took a loss on the abandonment and demolition of the Tyvola Road coliseum, and the subsequent sale of the land and "obsolete" and soon-to-be-blown-up coliseum. The building cost $52,000,000 which was 100% publicly funded; the city already owned the land. The costs, including interest, of the coliseum were about $65 million by the time it was abandoned; the loan wasn't fully paid off, and city council paid it off out of the general fund (I believe the balance was another $15,000,000 or so) in order to sell the property for approximately $25,000,000 for a net loss of $55,000,000.

Running total: $454,898,148

Then there's maintenance. According to a 2007 Business Journal article ( )

"The visitors authority handles security, maintenance and other back-of-house duties at the facility.

"Those duties will likely remain with the authority, says CRVA Chief Executive Tim Newman."

How much that is, and how much of the CRVA's cost is borne by taxpayers, isn't clear, but how much would maintenance on such a building cost, on average? $1 million per year? More? Say $1 million, which is $20,000,000 over 20 years.

Running total: $475,898,148.

So, the "public" pays approximately $475 million, while Michael Jordan pockets all rental and other income.

Sweetheart deal, huh? Well, it's "sweetheart" for Jordan and the Bobcats...for the city taxpayers, not so sweet.

pstonge said...

Anon 1:22: I didn't say that people requested confidentiality. I said that I have conversations about issues with people so I can better educate myself. When I want to do a story on a particular person, I ask him or her and they can agree or disagree to be interviewed for that purpose. Otherwise, it's just "What do you think about this topic?"
That's what happened here, along with reading and research about the debate a decade ago.


EuroCat said...

Anonymous 1:22, you don't come off as very credible when you accuse Mr. St Onge of "lying" while you hide behind the title "Anonymous". Classy.

I have made clear my own disagreement with Mr. St Onge and Ms. Wheeler on the financial benefit (or lack thereof) of the arena, but I would try to stay away from accusing people of "lying" simply because I disagreed with their opinions - especially while hiding behind a keyboard.

pstonge said...

Thanks, Euro.

I hope it's clear in these comments that I welcome contrary opinions to mine, and that's something I pursue before I write, too. I was wary of the arena a decade ago - and really, somewhat more recently than that, too. I've had the opportunity to talk to folks who were wary back then, too, and I think their concerns were and are legitimate.

Clearly, Anon is not one whom I've spoken to. But there are a lot of people who've shared his opinion then and now.


Anonymous said...


You are a brave man for writing about this sore subject in Charlotte's recent history. I for one voted against it and was mad about how they went forward with it anyway. I am still not happy with the arrangements. But, I am glad that Charlotte has it along with the light rail! We now just need the baseball stadium built to finish the touch of uptown!

Anonymous said...


1. Is EuroCat your real name? If not then you're as anonymous as I am. Your "profile" shows two blogs, each of which is empty, and no name. Kinda fits the definition of "hiding behind a keyboard"...

2. I have no bone to pick with you. In fact you are adding greatly to the discussion here and you know what you're talking about. (Hat tip too to Councilman Cooksey for pointing out the holes in the "gotta be downtown" argument.)

3. St. Onge *is* lying when he claims to have "talk(ed) to folks who were wary back then". Remember CO$T? I was one of the leaders and primary spokesmen. If St. Onge had done the research he claims to have done, he'd have known the names of the people to contact. The article gives zero indication that he did any interviews more than 10 feet from Lynn Wheeler's couch.

pstonge said...

Anon 3:18 continues to be wounded that he's not one of the folks I spoke to about the arena. Perhaps it would help if he knew I wrote a column for the Observer's front page the day after the arena opened - and in that column I said there were questions about if it was a good thing for Charlotte. That column didn't make arena advocates happy at all, but it, too, came after research and speaking with folks on the issue.

I've come to feel differently about the arena. Thanks to Euro for thoroughly presenting real and possible costs.


EuroCat said...

This must be Mr. St. Onge's opening night article:

It was on page 1A, and it did present a bit of the negative as a juxtaposition to the glitter. At that time, Mr. St. Onge was writing as a reporter, not a columnist, and as such his opinion was not particularly evident in the article. I think a line like "[b]ut depending on your perspective, our new $265 million playground is an impressive blend of artistry and gadgetry - or an extravagant symbol of how not to spend public money" is great!

Anonymous 3:18, Mr. St. Onge certainly doesn't need me to defend him, and I agree that you and I probably are more on the same side than opposite sides on both the arena deal itself as well as Ms. Wheeler's tenure. I'm certainly more in agreement with you than I am with Mr. St. Onge about the value of the arena to the city's residents and taxpayers.

However, my objection was to the "lying" claim, which you've repeated again. I have never met Mr. St. Onge, but I am aware of his credentials and I do not believe that he is a liar. He didn't interview you? Well, he didn't interview me, either. So? I wonder if he even bothered to interview Michael Jordan, since he seems to be the biggest beneficiary of the taxpayers' largesse. How many people is a columnist obligated to interview for a given column?

Really, the column (blog post, whatever) was entitled "So, maybe Lynn Wheeler was..." which sounds to me as if, whether I like her or not, the column would be about...well, Lynn Wheeler. I'm not too fond of Ms. Wheeler or her "legacy", but I was happy to read the column and present some numbers that might contradict some of her rosy claims about what I still think was a horrible decision. Maybe I'd rather Mr. St. Onge hadn't given her yet another opportunity to make excuses for her actions, but I am in no way surprised that the primary source for a column about a conversation with Lynn Wheeler might be...Lynn Wheeler.

I find the constant hurling of insults at Observer reporters, columnists, staffers, and editors, however, to be counterproductive, rude, and uncalled-for. You know what I mean; many commenters on regular articles continue to express their burning desire to see the Observer shut down even as they use the Observer's bandwidth to insult the Observer. Such irony.

I enjoy reading the Observer and I enjoy commenting on articles and posting on blogs. I see no justification for launching personal attacks at the newspaper or its employees. People who hate them so much probably should simply not waste their valuable time reading their stuff.

pstonge said...

That's some good research, Euro. I was writing columns for the features section then, and was asked to give my impressions of the arena for our front page, which I did.


Anonymous said...

Lynn Wheeler was the sacrificial lamb because she absolutely loved the camera and attention while most other members were smart enough to let her run her mouth non stop. I thought we were free at last from all that media attention to her. What now? Is she thinking of trying to run again? Hope not.

Anonymous said...

Euro (4:15):

St. Onge has factual errors in the column itself. For example the funding of the arena is not just from the hotel tax but from a hike in car rental taxes (50% of which are paid by local residents) and from Certificates of Participation (a bond-like instrument that sneaks around the NC Constitution's requirement for voter approval).

You yourself called Peter "absolutely ridiculous". Maybe St. Onge's mother has hacked into your account and started defending ol' Pete?

meg said...

A certain CO$T "leader" chose that role due to sour other words he built a McMansion near Quail hollow Country Club, but the PTB wouldnt let him near the employee washroom...another member of that loser posse can't get a job, others throw physical insults against city leaders when it is obvious they have not invested their own money in full length mirrors..even more depend on the wretched WBT for "news". Na na na na na, go ahead and move to SC, we will never miss you!!! You've been threatening for years!!! GO already!!!!

Anonymous said...

One thing that's an absolute fact, Lynn Wheeler had the hottest thighs in the history of local government.

Anonymous said...

What a laugh. Wheeler used pics of herself that were 30 yrs old and made wrong decisions about everything costing taxpayers billions. Newbies wouldnt understand. Bottom line is self serving big spending "urbane" dumbocrats want everything in a tiny circle uptown while Republicans like to spread out. This is not NYC or LA with rivers oceans or mountains. It is boring flatland Dallas Tx topography.

pstonge said...

Anon, 8:11: I was speaking of property taxes as the taxes arena opponents had the biggest beef with. The car rental taxes were not new taxes, but a reallocation, so as my column said, no new taxes were added to residents.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure the crooks downtown who will get to hang out with their Dem heroes think it was a great idea. Problem is that the economic impact is vastly overrated and even if it isn't the whole thing only lasts a week so how do you justify building an arena on the hopes that "maybe" you get something like this for one week several years down the road? The people who gain notoriety and wealth from this will get richer and more famous while all the nameless nobodies will get to pay for it. That's why it was voted against in the first place. If the big money wants an arena let them pay for it. They are certainly capable although with the help of useful idiots like Wheeler the have been able to fleece the rest of us. There is nothing heroic or noble about forcing other people to give you their money and then doing something with it that they have made clear they don't want done. Thanks for nothing Lynn. At least the people you steal from and screw over now are allowing to happen by choice.

Anonymous said...

Peter, let me assure you Lynn Wheeler was defeated not just for this issue but for a number of others. She was arrogant and openly catered to her uptown weathy elete who could BUY anything they wanted for uptown from local leaders like Wheeler. She took care of them too.

She was not as smart as Pat McCrory though. He did the same thing but Wheeler loved to see her self on television or hear her voice on the radio so she jumped at the chance to lead the charge on this issue. Pat watched from the sidelines and took credit for all the success as the media hungry Lyn went donw in flames...three times I think it was at the voting both.

People just got sick of her ego and arrogance. To this day I cringe when I hear her on the radio. (For a good read, google her work history at WBTV, that will tell you all you need to know about Lynn Wheeler, the ego.

Anonymous said...

Peter, will it still be the right thing to have done when the final accounting after the DNC reveals the city taking a large loss? Sure people in one small part of the city will make money, but the city will spend way more than their share of the funds spent locally. Watch, after it is over we'll be talking about cutting services again, and once again the first services mentioned will be police, fire and teachers. The Charlotte pattern all over again.

pstonge said...

Anon, 11:14: We agree that the arena wasn't the only thing that contributed to Wheeler not getting reelected. As I said in the column, she was overexposed a decade ago, and some had tired of her.

Anon, 12:20: If past conventions provide us any guidance, Charlotte won't be a loss at all from the DNC, even after you factor the money we'll put into it.

Joyce said...

I am posting in agreement with the Timothy Whitson post. "we elect public officials to voice OUR opinion about what ought to be done".
This trust in public officials has been abused at all levels of our government. So many elected officials, all the way to the White House, seem to feel that they were elected to be our Rulers! Who is surprised that our local elected officials see their election to office the same way. Wheeler"s comment to the effect that they need not have had an open referendum on the uptown arena to begin with, shows the general state of mind of most of the other council members as well. The building of the arena progressed without the voters support. Our Rulers had decided for us And in direct opposition to the voters will.
This disturbs me on so many levels and I think perhaps it does the same for many citizens.

Anonymous said...

Peter, past conventions won't be a guide for us, remember this is Charlotte. Our leadership is so worried about what other people think of us they will spend way too much on this convention in order to impress them. To hell with the impact on the locals. I'm just glad the BMW plant is over the SC border, otherwise the conventioneers would find a new BMW on their pillows!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Wheelers did Humpy ever have any type of association with Humped?

cisptso said...

The voters said NO and she did the opposite. What's up with that?

cisptso said...

The voters said NO and she did the opposite. What's up with that?