Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Charlotte tourism -- Oxymoron?

I’ve always thought the people who say there’s nothing to do in Charlotte aren’t looking very hard. We have art museums, history museums, frescos all over uptown, gallery crawls, all kinds of live performances, lectures and seminars, great restaurants and a ga-zillion bars. There’s enough stuff to do that if I found $10 million in untraceable drug money and could quit my job I could easily fill my time as a gadabout.

Then our family hosted a 13-year-old French kid for two weeks. She was part of a student exchange program at our daughter’s school, a public magnet school called Smith Language Academy. Our kids had visited Limoges (one of Charlotte’s Sister Cities) two weeks last fall. This month, the French kids came here. Now I understand the tourism problem.

When our kids were in France, they visited Versailles and the Eiffel Tower, several medieval villages, and the famous cave paintings of Lascaux, as well as the medieval center of Limoges. Turns out there are Roman ruins below the school the kids attended there, and they went down to see them one day.

The day after NASCAR awarded its Hall of Fame to Charlotte, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz wrote: “The NASCAR hall of fame instantly becomes Charlotte’s top tourist attraction. The elevator in the Wachovia building drops into second.”

I’m not a huge NASCAR fan, but I think we’d have taken those French kids to the Hall of Fame in a nanosecond. And the whitewater center, if it had been open.

You know, 13-year-olds are not, as a group, your best art museum aficionados. Carowinds isn’t open yet. The whitewater center isn’t built yet. Because the crowd of 19 had only six boys, the Charlotte parents who were organizing their activities opted against Lowe’s Motor Speedway as an attraction.

So what did they like? The girl who stayed with us liked shopping malls. All the kids seemed to enjoy a Bobcats game. I’m pretty sure the group did ride an elevator in a tall building uptown, but it wasn’t their No. 2 activity. It was more like No. 6.

I still think there’s a lot to do in Charlotte, but it does help to like birds of prey (they visited the raptor center), Charlotte history (not a topic taught extensively in Limoges) and art museums. So from now on, when those tourism experts tout Concord Mills and Carowinds as tourist attractions, I no longer will sniff at the concept.

Tourism wasn't really the point of the exchange, of course. The French kids learned a lot about Americans and American family life. Everything here is so big, they said. Americans eat more than they do, I was told. The huge trucks on the streets and roads interested the French kids.

And one day we were in a huge hurry, and we bought Wendy’s hamburgers and ate them while driving on the interstate. This, I thought, is the total American family experience!

Overall, the kids seemed to treat the trip as a grand adventure and to have a great time, regardless of tourist attractions.

But as tourists, what did they like best? I’m pretty sure it was the overnight trip to Charleston.


Kirk LeCureux said...

I'm not much of an art or museum person, but the thing I love about Charlotte is its proximity to both the mountains and the beach. Charleston is a great trip as you get to see a wonderful historic city and then make a trip to Folly Beach or Isle of Palms. In the other direction, Linville Gorge, Blowing Rock, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and other mountain destinations are also spectacular!

M'kay said...

I agree with Kirk:

The best thing about Charlotte how easy it is to go somewhere else!

Seriously, you can eat and drink in Anytown, USA. Arty/museum stuff is a one-trick pony. Sports events work if you're into them and it happens to be "your" season. And then?

If I found $10 million, I'd be a gadabout, too, but I'd be jumping from island to island in the Caribbean instead of wandering around Up/Down/Around town Charlotte.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte is a great city. However, the city can use more multi-cultural tourist attractions. I'm sure more attractions will come as city continues to develop. The city would definitely benefit from an Aquarium and Pier Boat (something like Pier 21 in New York City) with shops, restaurants, and live entertainment off Lake Norman, Zoo, Planetarium and a multi-cultural marketplace in Center City with vendors, shops, eateries, and live entertainment.

Anonymous said...

I honestly think that with the coming of the Nascar Hall of Fame, more cultural attractions will follow. Who knows? Maybe if the attendance is good at the HOF people will consider bringing more tourist friendly attrations to the city.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte is not a "Destination City", In which to escape your every day life. example: Have You ever heard on TV a game show that goes.." You've won an All expense Paid trip to,..(drum roll) !!CHARLOTTE NC!!!" Or where You going on vacation?? and the answer been Charlotte? . I haven't. As a kid,..I remember going on "Vacation" with my folks. My Dad traveled for a living,.So our "vacation" was atypical 1960's style, however some carpet samples were replaced in the back of the station wagon with Me. One of my dad's accounts was "South of the Border" in Dillon SC,..I still swing by there from time to time,..just to relive that Magical place I remember as a kid. from Fire Crackers to Dinner with "Pedro", as I was told to call "Who ever that man was that had the keys to the whole place, but I was most impressed the the golf cart with the fringe on top that picked us up and took us anywhere we wanted on the property. Opps,..one of those flash backs they told us about in health class,sorry about. Beside's racing, and nowadays, Banking. what is charlotte "Famous" for?. ( that will appeal to the masses.) or what can famlies of visiting bank execs. do during the day that can't be done or seen in other places??..Do the BIG banks offer any public tours of "behind the scenes" in banking that people might find interesting??..Perhaps the Federal Reserve here..? much like the tours in Washington DC..I remember going to the FBI headquarters on a tour (again as a kid in the late sixies) and seeing "Cool stuff" and everyone that wanted one got a paper target that was used during pratice at the shooting range there..Charlotte IS a racing town as opposed to a town that has a race..now with the internet and specialized TV networks and channels that focus on a broad range of interests it is alot tougher to "get and keep" audience of local attractions...What type of "Offspring attractions" do we see steming fron the HOF...Shop tours??..set up more friendly to the fans? ..Grayline tours...or decent local tour operators with diffent packages to racing areas of interest..perhaps? a tie in with one of the "Driver expirence" type where the general PUBLIC..can at least afford perhaps a spin around the track at say "OVER 100 MILEs an Hour" What about up in Wilksboro? I know they closed the track up there a few years ago..Seems like there may be some History up there that might be worth checking out..or even the teams planes up in Concord..I'd be interested and seeing one or two close up and in person..then The good Old fashioned "HOME of the DRIVERS" maps and tours..( look at graceland in Memphis..) a whole cottage industry is possible. To much to do in a weekend...so they have to come back..perhaps for a week..There is entertainment here..but it's a long mini-series..called life in Charlotte. Just food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Well, they are building something called the U.S. Whitewater Center, which will be the world's only multi-channel recirculating whitewater river. In addition to being a public park, it will host World Cup competitions, Olympic Trials and also serve as the home of international Olympic athletes working and training at the center. So, that right there is something unique that might draw the outdoor types and other visitors to Charlotte.

Anonymous said...

What about Discovery Place? What kid wouldn't enjoy that? Or the Duke Power Energy Exploratorium?

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem, if it is a problem at all, is that in the end a city is what it is, not what people want it to be. Paris is not the result of a group of planners deciding what the focus of the city should be for the sake of drawing tourists. It's a hodge podge result of the daily lives and economic concerns of the residents over time, that make it unique. The people who built the historic district in Charleston didn't set out to build a historic district, nor did those buildings exist into the 20th century because someone thought that 100 or 150 years later their ordinary houses and shops would be really cool to have around. Economic circumstance did that. That those buldings exist at all, however, is just the consequence of everyday life of the earlier residents.

When PAris was thriving and building what has become a tourist detination, and when the saem thing was happening in Charleston, Charlotte was small town of no particular note. It may one day BE a tourist destination of some significance. Bob Barker III may one day be telling someone that they've won a trip to, "Exciting, beautiful Charlotte", but if that occurs it will be the unintended consequence of lots of people pursuing their own lives and iunterests and economic activity.

As someone pointed out, NASCAR IS a part of the local culture. It is the natural product of people pursuing their own interests. It is exactly the sort of thing that makes a city what it is. If it makes the city a tourist destination, that's a good thing. If it doesn't, it continues to serve the interests of the people and that is the far more important thing for a city.

(Just as an aside, I doubt that things built from the ground up intentionally to attract tourism don't really work nearly as well as those things that taek adavantage of what's already a part of a city or an area. I can't imagine that anyone would really be terribly impressed or attracted by a collection of plastic bannana tourist detinations that have no organic connection to the people or the city simply planted in Charlotte to draw tourist dollars.)

Anonymous said...

The Whitewater Park and Discovery Place are nice, but more is needed to attract people to the area. Since developers are looking to make Charlotte a destination city, they have to think globally. We can't have a world class city, doing small town things. I agree with the second Blogger, an Aquarium, multi-cultural Marketplace, and Planetarium would be awesome. Downtown would be more exciting with name brand retail and restaurants. A Hard Rock Cafe' and a B.B. King's Blues Cafe' would do wonders. Name brand retail and restaurants, and multi-cultural tourist attractions, and bright lights are what make cities like Atlanta, New York, and Chicago what they are. It's time for developers think big, especially if they plan to fill up all the new high-rise condos.

Anonymous said...

The high-rise condos are already filling up, and fast...

Anonymous said...

True. However, I'm sure future tenants are expecting a variety conveniently located amenities to be developed. People live in the center of a city for convenience, and right now, Uptown doesn't offer that. Residents in downtown Manhattan and Chicago can walk to a variety of name brand retail, hair salons and grocery stores that stay open after 5 PM.

Anonymous said...

A few name brand destinations in center City would be nice, but I don't think people moving there are attracted to the area because of those. Why try to emulate the suburbs? One of my goals when I visit another city is to do something I can't do in Charlotte. That means, don't take me to a mall or an Olive Garden.

Being three hours from the beach and mountains does't cut it either. I just moved from somewhere where a beach and a ski resort were less than a half hour away from home. A three hour drive is a whole different world from here.

Like it or not, NASCAR is what puts this town on the map and it's long overdue that we capitalize on it. While the redneck stereotype of the sport does become apparent more often, hundred of thousands of people from all over the country to visit our city is nothing to sneeze at. The NASCAR hall of Fame will only help validate that.

A revamped Mint and Discovery Place would be nice. The Dead sea Scrolls are a home run for us. The white water park will also be cool. But in the end, some thing or person of rock-star status we haven't thought of yet will be what puts us on the map.

Oh and what do people tell me what they think of the city when I tell them I'm from there? "Oh, harlotte is so clean and modern." I'll proudly accept that compliment.

erin said...

A friend of mine who moved to Charlotte from NYC about a year ago likes to say that Charlotte is a great place to live, but not so great to visit. I have to agree with him - when I have out-of-town guests, I'm hard-pressed to find something to do that doesn't involve either a) going to the mall, or b) driving a few hours away. I hope the hall of fame brings more cultural opportunities not just for tourism, but for locals as well.

Jimmy Mac said...

let's get real here folks Charlotte is a country town with big city dreams.
Many people have moved to Charlotte to get away from the big city images and sounds.
Let's continue to be the country folks we are deep down inside.

Anonymous said...

jimmy mac - thats OK, really.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I have to agree with the previous poster. Sorry jimmy mac, but no country town for me. Why don't people move to an actual small town if they want "country." Charlotte isn't exactly country anymore. And to the previous posters, the people have to come first before the amenities. More stores aren't going to locate downtown if nobody lives there...

So, the more high rises that go up and as more people live downtown, more stores and amenties will pop up.

Anonymous said...

LAst poster is dead right. Stores and restaurants are businesses first and foremot. They go where the market is. If they precede the market develoment they do so at their peril. To stand the line form the movie on it's head, "If the people come, they will build it."

I really don't understand the fascination with being a tourist destination for it's own sake. Cities must serve the residents. They can certainly do both (serve the residents and attract visitors) but what a horrid lifeless Disneyland of the Carolinas we would make of Charlotte if we actually just focused on what would attract people from other cities.

And by the way, the fascination with "name brand" restaurants and retail escapes me completely. A Palm downtown: Whoopeee! Another cookie cutter steakhouse just like every other Palm in the country. (OK, I'll confess: I think Palm is just another a third rate steakhouse with an abject lack of talent in the kitchen.) In my opinion what we need are more restaurants operated by talented, adventurous and creative owner-chefs who place a very personal stamp on their operation that ISN'T duplicated anywhere else. (One of the great things about Charleston: there are dozens of stunningly good restaurants with menues that are totally unique. The very LAST place I'd go for dinner in that city is one of the national chain operations.)

Johnson and Wales will eventually stimulate that here, thank goodness.

Anonymous said...

I will never understand the fascination and obsession that our leaders have with tourism. The jobs generated by tourist dollars are usually bordering on the minimum side of wages. Our economy is not based on waiters tips...thank God.
Frankly, I would rather Charlotte be a nice place to live with lower taxes, better roads, better schools, and less crime, than a tourist mecca.
Charlotte has had no problem with population growth the way we are. Unfortunately we have now reached a pinnacle and are on a downward spiral as far as livability is concerned. I'm actually moving to Fort Mill in May to escape the taxes.
All the "world class" cities in the world will never entice me to want to live in them. NYC, Chicago, London, Paris, etc all fun cities, but living there is nighmarish. Why do we want to emulate them other than to stroke the egos of our "leaders"? Charlotte is great, but our ego is going to kill us. The decline of business growth in the past few years is a testament to how being a tourist city doesn't mix with being a livable city. The taxes grow, the students suffer, and the roads suck so we can give outsiders something to do. Doesn't make sense to me!

Anonymous said...

(recorded message on tour bus)

Welcome to Charlotte.
Please try to ignore the dead bodies and closed schools on your way to the NASCAR hall of fame today.

We would also like to thank in you advance for your rental car taxes. They will go toward paying 1/bazillionth of the cost for arts, NASCAR, the Arena, and some other stuff that you might visit on today's tour. The rest is paid for by taxpayers who wonder why there are no roads being built, rapists wandering the streets, and MS13 gangs moving in to take advantage of the booming illegal immigrant population.

But, don't worry, you won't be touring any of those parts of town today! Honestly, we are not sure those problems even exist in Charlotte. Much of those complaints seem to come from Conservative 'rabble rousers' who seem to just want to tear down our dreams of making Charlotte the nicest place to VISIT in the Southeast.

Just a not: We would like to contain today's tour to the ten block area we call 'UPtown' (does it get more hick than that?). We will then tell you 'this is Charlotte.'

All that garbage on 485, the police crews invetigating the deaths from DUI backwards highway driving, and hookers on Wilkinson Blvd were all really in SOME OTHER city, not Charlotte.

Thanks for stopping by, and please come again next year when we have finished constructing the Southeastern Barbeque Hall of Fame where Freedom Park used to be (sponsored by Scott Clark Toyota).

Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

When I have out of town guests they always ASK to go on what we affectionately call "The Redneck Tour". It is an all day outing to tour the Race Shops. Most of them are open to the public. A couple of them even have museums on site. They all have gift shops. People who's only exposure to NASCAR has been watching the race on TV, and the movie "Days of Thunder" are amazed when they see a real race shop. Hendrick, who built the movie cars for that feature, even has a Days of Thunder car in his museum.

The first question is always "Why do they have so many cars?". And the first exclamation is "It's so clean!". The second is "It's so BIG".

Anonymous said...

This whole thing reminds me of kids.

Mom! I'm bored!

Well honey you can watch 157 channels of TV, listen to 163 satellite radio stations, play games on the X-Box or Play Station 2. Play the universe of music on your i-pod. Gez, I wish you would go outside and play with your friends using your imagination to expand your mind.

A lot of tourism is due to natural or man made features and attractions.Tourism can also be created when someone visits a place to experience a culture different than their own. Whose to say BBQ, the Fish Camp and Concord Mills would not attract or interest someone whose never been.

Shiny things attract but sometimes real treasures are not the brightest jewel in the chest.

lcb said...

I'll bet those kids would have enjoyed seeing the site of this country's first gold rush -- Reed Gold Mine. They would have especially liked knowing that it was started by a boy their age who found a pretty 17-lb rock in the creek near his house, and his parents used it for a doorstop for 3 years before selling it to a jeweler for $3.50.
The Reed Gold Mine site is a great place to take kids, and a good way to find out one big reason why Charlotte has become a banking center. What kid doesn't like to tour through spooky dark tunnels?

Anonymous said...

At least someone mentioned the Reed Gold Mine. How about the Knox birthplace? And two (count them) Jackson birthplaces?? Not too far away are the Uwharrie Mountains - perhaps the oldest mountain chain on earth! and while there you can take in Town Creek Indian Mound and Morrow Mountains activies. The Schiele museum is fascinating as is the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens - and Wing Haven. UNCC also has an aboretum that is second to none and has a great collection of orchids - one of the best in the nation. The Mint Museum is as interesting due to its history as it is the art it now contains. Just over the line in Union County, Cane Creek offers water activities now - not whitewater, but canoeing and boating, fishing, picnicking. All of these are day trip/local. Good lord - did you think of driving them up to the Biltmore House so they could take in our attempt to copy something French!?

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