Growth strains hospitals; New MLS money details

Plus: All kinds of other soccer odds and ends, including talk of an 'entertainment district' uptown; Die-hard fan explains 'the beautiful game'

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Speakers tell state regulators that Mecklenburg needs more hospital beds, stat; Atrium hopes to block Novant plans for addition in Matthews

You usually hear about the challenges of Charlotte’s growth manifesting themselves in traffic and overcrowded schools.

But speakers at a hearing this week sounded off on another outgrowth of Charlotte’s quick rise in population: the strain it places on our local hospitals.

On Monday, state health regulators held a public hearing on where in Mecklenburg County to allow Atrium Health and Novant Health to add hospital beds and operating rooms. The consensus among company officials and members of the public seemed to be that there are needs throughout the county, and new beds are needed now.

Residents described healthcare experiences through the prism of the region’s fast growth. One speaker recalled Atrium Health Pineville’s site being a cow pasture. Another said a new hospital in northern Mecklenburg is needed to avoid I-77 traffic.

“There seems to be a common thread that goes through everything that we’ve talked about,” said Charlotte resident Ray Eschert. “The growth of the area is outpacing the medical requirements that residents and people moving into the area need.”

Approval sought: Hospitals need state approval to add beds, and the state has said Mecklenburg needs 76 more. Novant wants to build 20 of those in Matthews. Atrium said it needs all 76, spread among Pineville, University City, Carolinas Medical Center and a new facility on Lake Norman. The Ledger first reported on the dueling plans last month.

Anybody at the hearing expecting a combative, mudslinging brawl between the county’s two rival hospital systems — or hoping for it, even — left the three-hour session mostly disappointed.

Waiting in the ER: Hospital administrators with Atrium and Novant described long wait times for patients forced to spend hours in the emergency room until beds became available. A father of a young cancer patient described enduring a wait of more than eight hours in a Novant ER, despite his son’s failing immune system, because there were no beds.

Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center is projected to need the most new hospital beds in the state in 2022, the healthcare giant said.

The two sides mostly didn’t throw shade on other’s plans, with a couple of exceptions. Atrium believes it should get all the new beds because it is generating the demand for them. The almost-unspoken corollary, of course, is that Novant is not generating the demand.

“The only other acute care inpatient provider in the county has a substantial surplus of acute care beds and operating room capacity,” said Vicki Block, an Atrium senior vice president.

Saad Ehtisham, president of the Charlotte market for Novant, later said: “It is irrelevant as to which healthcare system generated the need. Each application is reviewed on its own merits.”

State projections show that all of Atrium’s local hospitals will have deficits of beds in 2022, particularly CMC. Three of Novant’s five hospitals, on the other hand, are anticipated to have a surplus of bed allotments: Ballantyne, Huntersville and Mint Hill.

Asked about those projected surpluses after the hearing, and why Novant doesn’t just move beds from some of those hospitals to Matthews, Roland Bibeau, president of Novant Health Matthews, told the Ledger that he would let the company’s application speak for itself. Some state projections might overstate the surpluses — Novant’s hospital in Mint Hill opened just last year, and its Ballantyne location isn’t expected to open until 2023, for instance.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services will review the hundreds of pages of documents each side presented and come to a decision in the next few months.

Council member: City hasn’t approved spending money on soccer

Charlotte City Council member Tariq Bokhari took to Twitter on Tuesday afternoon to provide the most thorough description yet of what exactly the city has agreed to in order to bring Major League Soccer to town.

Bokhari wrote that the city hasn’t actually agreed to spend anything — just to set aside $110M in tourism taxes, then work out the details in good faith with the new team and the community.

Bokhari’s south Charlotte constituents are probably among the ones asking the loudest how, exactly, this deal makes financial sense — or really, what the deal actually is, since the City Council has divulged little about what it entails. Or is there even a deal at all?

Bokhari wrote:

In my opinion, there are 5 things everyone that values good deals and stewardship of taxpayer dollars should know about MLS coming [to] #CLT. Now that we have made today’s announcement, I am able to speak in greater detail on the City’s involvement to date.

  1. We have agreed to a framework that will guide our future negotiations (not a specific subsidy or investment today), and our part of that agreement was to set aside $110M and agree not to spend it on something else until we have concluded these negotiations.

  2. That framework is not about subsidizing a portion of the owner’s franchise fee, rather [it] focuses on major economic development (ROI generating) sub-topics including Eastland, the uptown mixed-use entertainment district, stadium enhancements, and the long-term residency of NFL and MLS in Charlotte.

  3. Before a single dollar of that $110M is committed, approved or spent, each of these Economic Development sub-topics will be planned, communicated to the community in a transparent fashion, have the community’s feedback solicited on in public forums, and voted on by council in a public manner.

  4. If approved, these sub-topics will be funded from hospitality sources. These are dedicated enterprise funds that cannot be spent on other topics such as potholes or affordable housing.

  5. This approach was a win-win, not only for the taxpayers but also for the ownership team. Our partner David Tepper was able to take the Mayor’s letter outlining our framework agreement (explained above), and secure Charlotte’s MLS franchise as announced today.

Here’s the punchline: we made a plan to negotiate a deal in the future (aka a ‘framework’), without pre-approving the conveyance of a single dollar of taxpayer money (just promising to set it aside and not spend it until we have a chance to negotiate).

Miraculously, we were able to get a franchise in the process of doing all this with no strings attached other than to negotiate in good faith with our partner (and according to our framework) in full view and with full involvement of the community.

There is much work still to do before this story is fully written, but today we should [be] excited that no matter what, CLT is an MLS city, and thankful for the hard work of David Tepper, the Tepper Sports organization, City Staff, and the Mayor that got us to this point.

Deal or no deal? However, Tepper and MLS seem to believe money is forthcoming. “The city made major commitments,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, according to WBTV. “In life, you need to sort of have those things written in stone. I’m counting on [Mayor Vi Lyles] and the city council to deliver on that.”

‘Entertainment district’

One noteworthy aspect of Bokhari’s remarks is his mention of “the uptown mixed-use entertainment district” that’s part of the discussion. Until now, most of the focus on the soccer funding has been related to the Eastland Mall site and stadium improvements. Recall that in addition to owning the Eastland site, the city also owns the Panthers practice fields — home of the “practice bubble” — which won’t be needed after the team moves its operations to Rock Hill.

Tepper also told WSOC that he “wants the entertainment district connecting Bank of America Stadium to Gateway Station to be like Broadway in Nashville ‘so you bring this vibrancy into the city.’”

That suggests that the city is engaged in multiple complicated land deals with Tepper & Co. It’s hard to imagine the city not spending the money it has set aside. It sounds as though for all the hoopla on Tuesday, there are still a lot of financial details to be hammered out.

Mayor blames media on MLS incentives question

Lyles added: “These were done in the same way we’ve done any business investment plan. So you’ll get the minutes from the closed session. When we’re negotiating and competing against everyone else in the country, we have to have the ability to think and talk through how we do this.”

The Observer posted a video of the full interrogation of the mayor, who seems displeased with the line of questioning.

Soccer 101: ‘the beautiful game’

With Major League Soccer headed to Charlotte, The Ledger is starting a new regular feature in which we ask hardcore fans to explain the game and its traditions.

Q: Soccer is sometimes called “the beautiful game.” What’s the appeal?

“It takes patience. It’s dramatic. You can experience all types of emotions within a short period. There’s nothing like it. You can be winning a game and then draw at the 90th minute, and that feels like a loss. Or the reverse: being down 1-0 in the 90th minute and you score, and it’s a draw, but you’re so elated. Winning is just the ultimate.” — Rick Marion, 39, of Mooresville

Got a question for a die-hard soccer fan? Email

In brief

  • New plan for Excelsior Club: California company wants to turn historic building “into an entertainment complex with a restaurant, hotel, art gallery, bar, lounge and music venue” with the help of tax money and charitable contributions. The City Council and county commission approved spending the tax money this week. (WBTV/Observer, Qcitymetro)

  • State not tracking effect of toll roads: The N.C. Department of Transportation doesn’t track whether new toll roads are reducing congestion. “The state appears to lack clear answers and to be in no hurry to find out whether the wealth, materials, acreage, sweat and frustration sacrificed to create the new toll routes have been justified in each case or in any case.” (Carolina Public Press)

  • Lebda buys piece of Steelers: LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda has purchased an ownership interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was the ownership stake previously owned by Panthers owner David Tepper, who had to give it up when he bought the Panthers last year. (Observer)

  • Wells Fargo settles discrimination lawsuit: The bank is paying $10M to the city of Philadelphia to resolve a federal suit alleging discrimination against minority borrowers. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

  • Early interest: 1,000 soccer fans signed up for season tickets for Charlotte’s new MLS team on the first day they were available. (Observer)

Cheap getaways from CLT

  • Charlotte to Newark, $52 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), various dates in January-February.

  • Charlotte to Baltimore, $52 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), various dates in January-February.

  • Charlotte to Philadelphia, $49 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), Jan. 23-26.

  • Charlotte to New Orleans, $160 round-trip on American (nonstop), Jan. 31-Feb. 3.

  • Charlotte to Lima, Peru, $537 round-trip on American (one-stop), various dates in April-May.

Source: Google Flights. Fares retrieved Wednesday morning. They might have changed by the time you read this.

Charlotte soccer fans whoop it up Tuesday night:

Programming note: Ledger editor Tony Mecia appears as a guest on 90.7 WFAE at 6:40 a.m. and 8:40 a.m. on Thursdays for a discussion of the week’s local business news in the station’s “BizWorthy” segment. Audio and transcripts are also available online.

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.