By Ben Bradford
An indoor, amateur sports complex and a small hotel would replace Bojangles Arena and Ovens Auditorium, under a private developer’s plan the City of Charlotte is considering. It’s the only proposal from a developer the city received, after allocating $25 million in its Capital Improvement Plan to redevelop the underused arena—and the declining area around it. WFAE’s Ben Bradford joined Morning Edition host Kevin Kniestedt to take a look at the proposal.
KNIESTEDT: Let’s start with the concept of “an amateur sports complex”—how did the city hit on this idea?
BRADFORD: The city’s tourism arm and its economic development arm love amateur sports. A study from a couple years ago shows amateur sports bring about a quarter billion dollars to the region each year. I talked to Charlotte economic development manager Brad Richardson about it:
RICHARDSON: We’ve got really good professional sports teams, but we also have a really good track record of drawing amateurs sports. They fill hotels and restaurants and bring new people to see Charlotte, when they’re traveling with their children. And then we’ve got local families who travel every weekend to other cities and spend their dollars there.
BRADFORD: So they’d like to draw those families here. And, Charlotte’s tourism arm—the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority—says they have the ability to do that. Their CEO Tom Murray says demand is actually growing.
MURRAY: We’ve booked 20 different kinds of sports since ’07. Everything from softball, to darts, to disc golf and Ultimate Frisbee, and more traditional sports.
BRADFORD: But, Murray says we don’t have enough space for a lot of indoor events. He says, with more, they could draw everything from cheerleading tournaments, to wrestling, basketball, or even the Bowling World Congress … that’s a six month event that drew 40,000 people when private bowling alleys hosted it in 2007.
KNIESTEDT: And they think this proposal, to convert Bojangles Arena and the surrounding area would give them the ability to draw those events?
BRADFORD: Right. The arena lost about $200,000 last year—that’s how underused it is. And the surrounding area has stagnated in terms of economic development. Sports tournaments, with families coming to visit, could turn it around—or that’s the thought. So, as you noted, the city’s already committed up to $25 million for some kind of amateur sports complex.
KNIESTEDT: But they only received one bid.
BRADFORD: Right. Brad Richardson from the city says that for this specialized of a job, they didn’t expect many bids and—so far—they’re happy with this one.
KNIESTEDT: So, what is it—who’s the company?
BRADFORD: The developer is a company called GoodSports—it’s actually a subsidiary of Focus Hotels in Florida and it’s been around for less than a year. And the company’s business model revolves around the hotel—they build one next to the amateur sports complex, along with retail space. The city gets tournaments, and the people involved in the tournament stay at the hotel. So, that’s the profit model. The company says it wants to build 25 of these “villages” across the country. Here in Charlotte, it would be a 100,000 square foot field house with a floor of 8 high school basketball courts—and that could be converted to other uses. A 150 room hotel, and then retail spaces for sporting goods companies, gyms, restaurants, and so forth. It’s projecting the total cost at $72 million dollars—and the city would kick in $18 million under the current proposal.
KNIESTEDT: You say this company’s been around for less than a year. Are they experienced enough for the city to trust?
BRADFORD: I think that’s a really good question, and it’s going to be the one to watch going forward. Like I said, the company is a spin-off of a larger, well-established hotel developer in Florida. The CEO’s name is Jerald Good. GoodSports—get it? He refused an interview, but we do know some things about him. He’s obviously had this idea in the works for a couple of years, even though this is technically a new company. And, he has two of these “villages” already underway—one in Wichita, Kansas, and another town near Dayton Ohio just approved one last week.
KNIESTEDT: And when do we expect the City Council to vote on it?
BRADFORD: The Economic Development Committee will probably meet about it in January.