People are still nervous about in-person events

Plus: New details on Eastland redevelopment; CMS looks ready to go on starting elementary students next week; City eyeing new nondiscrimination ordinance; Ledger happy hour details

Good morning! Today is Wednesday, October 28, 2020. You’re reading The Charlotte Ledger, an e-newsletter with local business-y news and insights for Charlotte, N.C. This post is sent to paying subscribers only.

Outlook remains dim for most Charlotte-area gatherings — including holiday parties, event planners say; Feeling safer in small groups and online

With most in-person corporate events evaporating, many are moving online, like this Microsoft tech camp that offered coding and gaming and included keynote speaker Seth Curry. (Photo courtesy of Bogues Consulting Group)

by Tony Mecia

In the summer, many event planners were thinking that by now, people would feel more comfortable attending charity events, corporate gatherings and festivals — assuming they took appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of Covid.

But now, as we approach the eighth month of living with the pandemic, it is becoming clear that those visions of people’s comfort levels were wildly optimistic.

There are still some small events — weddings with reduced guest lists, family reunions, groups of friends planning small get-togethers — and many have tried to move online. By and large, though, the Charlotte area’s regular diet of in-person fundraisers and corporate functions is still nowhere to be found and probably won’t be for many more months, planners say.

“We thought by the fall that you would start to see organizations be willing to have small stuff — that they might be willing to do small house parties,” says Cassie Brown, owner of TCG Events. “What we’re seeing is that’s not happening. People aren’t willing to be with strangers. … Organizations just don’t want the liability and don’t want the bad press that can be attributed to it.”

That reluctance likely means that most holiday parties will be canceled, too. Brown says she is hearing that most planners don’t want to attempt anything except small events until next July or August.

Society’s response to Covid has affected different industries in different ways. Some have been almost untouched. Others, like many tech companies, home-improvement stores, grocers and others that service the at-home economy are actually doing better. Then there’s a whole class of industries that’s doing worse, particularly those tied to travel and hospitality — including events.

North Carolina’s Covid restrictions limit capacity in meeting rooms to 30% of the usual maximum occupancy, which can wind up allowing more people than the regular limit of 25 people gathering indoors. But planners say they rarely come up against those limits because people simply don’t want to attend large organized events.

Brittney Bogues, who specializes in communications and event planning for her Bogues Consulting Group, says she feels for many of the venues that are sitting empty. She says there are still some events going on, such as in-person panel discussions that are broadcast online, as well as small, high-end gatherings, but that creativity goes only so far.

“You try to get creative, and there are some drive-in concerts here and there, but the venues are just sitting there,” she says. “People want to get out and do something, but people are also very fearful. Their confidence hasn’t changed in months.”

At Middle C Jazz, which opened a year ago in uptown, managing director Teddy Johnson says the club is still booking “life cycle events” such as birthday parties, family reunions, anniversaries and bachelor and bachelorette parties. It also attracts small groups of academics or sports teams, he says. Many of the people calling to check, though, do so with “half the gusto” of usual times.

“They’ll call and say, ‘Well, we were thinking… or ‘We’re not sure…’” he says. Under Covid restrictions, the club can sell up to 70 tickets for a show, but most groups are smaller, in the 10-20 range.

And corporate events, he says, are “barren”: “I don’t want to say it’s zero, but it’s almost none.”

He has seen a variety of responses: “Sometimes those events can take place, and sometimes they can’t,” he says. “It is all depending on Covid.”

Event alternatives: Virtual, smaller or heading south

Event planners in Charlotte say they are seeing groups explore alternatives to in-person events. Those options include:

  • Going online: A lot of events have gone virtual, with mixed results. Creative examples include cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and trivia nights, though some people seem to be coming down with Zoom fatigue. They key is to keep events lively and moving, instead of just replicating long in-person events online, Brown says. And there are new platforms that are more interactive than Zoom. “The software is getting a lot better,” she says.

  • Convening smaller gatherings: Instead of holding events with hundreds of people, some organizations are experimenting with smaller groups and linking them with video, or having an in-person component broadcast to smaller groups in people’s homes. For charities, this approach can cut out a lot of the costs associated with a big gala, for example, which can help in hitting fundraising goals.

  • Heading to S.C.: Billy Dunlap, CEO of Visit York County, tells The Ledger: “We have seen a pretty significant number of events moving into York County from North Carolina.” South Carolina’s capacity restrictions are less stringent than North Carolina’s, though Dunlap says venues are working to make sure events are safe. Corporate events are “pretty much still at a standstill,” he says, but wedding locations are especially busy, and the county is also landing a lot of sports tournaments that otherwise might have been held in North Carolina. This year’s Mrs. North Carolina pageant was even held this year in Fort Mill in August.

Related Ledger article:

Slick new rendering — and more details — on Eastland plan

NEW DETAILS ON EASTLAND: City economic development officials this week offered the most concrete details yet about the plan to develop the old Eastland Mall site in east Charlotte. The city plans to develop the site in conjunction with Crosland Southeast and Tepper Sports. The first phase of the development, expected to be complete by 2022, calls for construction of infrastructure, 250 apartments, retail space, single-family homes, an Atrium Health facility and soccer fields. A future phase could include offices and senior affordable housing. In a switch, the new Major League Soccer team’s HQ would not be at the location. The city’s total investment in Eastland would be $37M-$39M. “This, in my mind, is a bigger win for helping Eastland come to the fruition and the vision that everybody has,” said assistant city manager Tracy Dodson. The city would work with Tepper Sports to develop a plan for uptown in 2021 and make a decision on the future of Bank of America Stadium in 2022. The City Council is expected to vote on the new plan next month. (Want more info? The Biz Journal had a thorough article this week.)

Today’s supporting sponsor is Landon A. Dunn, Attorney at Law in Matthews:

As Covid cases rise, CMS appears on track to open to K-5 on Monday; school board meeting tonight

Staff at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools elementary schools are busy this week pumping out back-to-school information for families whose children are scheduled to walk through their doors on Monday. Meanwhile, there’s been some talk about whether the school board should rethink its reopening plan, with Covid cases ticking up.

The county health department’s Covid numbers put CMS in the “red” zone in one area of the public health figures it tracks: The most recent data shows that there are 120.7 Covid cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period. Anything more than 100 cases per 100,000 is considered in the “red zone.”

According to the reopening guidelines CMS’s Metrics Advisory Committee announced earlier this fall, “one or more metrics in red for > 14 days: Consider virtual learning for all students in collaboration with MCPH.”

On other metrics, the county is solidly in the green or yellow zones. The percent positivity rate is currently at 6.3%, and a percent positivity rate between 5-10% puts the county in the yellow zone for “moderate community spread,” according to the reopening metrics guidelines.

Kathy Elling, CMS chief school performance officer, seemed to caution against putting too much emphasis on the one red zone metric during a review of the metrics dashboard Monday on Facebook Live.

“No one metric signifies any decision point for the district. And no one metric over a period of 14 days triggers a decision point,” Elling said.

She also said:

We designed the dashboard specifically to provide guidance to our board and our superintendent about conditions in our schools so that they can make appropriate decisions. The metrics are guidelines. One or more metric in any color does not a decision necessitate, and so we are looking at all of our conditions holistically, working extremely closely with our county health department and our superintendent to be sure that we’re providing a safe environment for students. We believe we’re poised to open for K-5. The board will be getting an update on these metrics on Wednesday night.

As of Monday, 16 of the district’s 19,106 staff members had active cases of Covid, and there were 19 schools with Covid cases among students or staff, putting the district in the yellow on that measure. (Fewer than 10 schools with cases would put it in the green.)

There are 2,731 students with disabilities and pre-K students currently attending school in CMS buildings, Elling said.

No schools had active clusters of five or more Covid cases, and there were between 15-50 students or staff in active quarantine, putting that figure in yellow.

On the school-readiness side, the district’s dashboard was in green for cafeteria, transportation and custodial readiness. School nurses were in yellow, but Elling said she expected that metric to move to green by the time school doors open next week.

The CMS school board has a “Readiness Metrics Report” on its agenda for its meeting at 6 p.m. tonight. (You can watch on the board’s Facebook page.)

Some other local school districts have recently opened their doors wider to students.

Union County elementary students on Monday began attending school in-person four days a week.

And last week, Cabarrus County brought students back into the classroom for a hybrid in-person and remote-learning plan. —CB

Metropolitan development sells for less than it did 7 years ago

The Metropolitan development in Midtown Charlotte, home to Trader Joe’s and Best Buy, has a new owner.

Real estate records filed Tuesday show that Northwood Investors, which owns the Ballantyne corporate park and the Ballantyne hotel, paid $92.3M for the 8-acre site and an adjacent vacant 1.3-acre parcel.

In a statement to The Ledger, Northwood president John Barton said:

We’re excited that Northwood Investors continues to grow, and acquiring Metropolitan reinforces the firm’s commitment to Charlotte. It’s a great opportunity for our office and retail platforms to collaborate locally and apply our respective expertise and hands-on management approach to provide an even more memorable mixed-used experience.

The statement fails to answer the most obvious question: Will you somehow fix the Metropolitan’s parking deck? (It regularly lands atop the “worst parking in Charlotte” lists.)

The sales price is less than the $97.3M that the previous owner, JPMorgan, paid for the property, records show. It spent $94.4M in 2013 to buy the commercial property and another $2.9M for the vacant lot in 2019.

It seems mind-boggling that the sales price of commercial property so close to uptown Charlotte would drop by $5M in the last seven years, but the Metropolitan has lost some big tenants recently — such as Staples and Vivace — and those are tough to replace in the current environment.

The sale was first reported Sunday by Charlotte Agenda’s Katie Peralta. —TM

First Ledger happy hour is tomorrow

Tomorrow, The Ledger is holding its first-ever virtual happy hour.

A year ago, if you had told us that in late October 2020, we’d be holding a virtual happy hour, we would have said, “What’s a virtual happy hour?” or maybe, “Do what now?”

But these are the times we live in. We think it will be interesting, and possibly even fun: Log onto an interactive platform with others who enjoy reading a hard-charging upstart email newsletter in Charlotte. Bring a drink of your choice. Talk to some people you don’t know. Hey, why not?

We’ll go from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday). Here’s the link you’ll need. (We’ll send it again tomorrow around lunchtime.)

Enter Ledger Happy Hour

We’re giving that link only to paying subscribers like you. But if you want to forward this email and bring along a friend, the more the merrier.

Details: The happy hour will be on an interactive platform called Wonder, which simulates being in an actual reception room. You can move around, talk to different people, join a big group or hold a one-on-one conversation.

In addition, we will convene a few different rooms for people with the following interests:

  • Commercial development

  • Entrepreneurship

  • Your favorite pandemic TV shows

  • Working & schooling from home

  • Talk to The Ledger

If none of those appeals to you, no problem — you can talk to others outside of those rooms. There’s no program. Just show up and mingle.

Deal on beer delivery 🍺: As a bonus, our friends at Divine Barrel Brewing have agreed to cut Ledger readers a deal on beer for the happy hour. We’re not paying them and they’re not paying us, but Divine Barrel has agreed to waive delivery fees. The minimum order for free delivery is $30, which is roughly two 4-packs. Why not get some quality, Charlotte-brewed beer delivered to your front door? Go to their website and use the promo code “LEDGER” for the free delivery. Divine Barrel tells us you’ll need to order by noon on Thursday to have your beer delivered Thursday, and they will do their best to get it there before 5:30 p.m.

Cheers, Salud, Prost, Slainte — see you tomorrow at 5:30. We will send that link out again around lunchtime. —TM

In brief

  • Police overhaul: The City Council voted unanimously to approve changes to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department that include shifting some responsibilities and money to community organizations, working more closely with local nonprofits to reduce violence, offering incentives for officers to live closer to where they work and seeking an outside review of police interactions with the community. The city “also signaled support for redirecting some lower-risk 911 calls, including for those experiencing a mental health crisis or homelessness … [to] a crisis response team — staffed by clinicians, social workers and people with medical training.” (Observer)

  • New nondiscrimination ordinance? The city of Charlotte is working with cities across the state and with the LGBTQ-rights group Equality NC on a new nondiscrimination ordinance. On Dec. 1, a portion of the legislative compromise that ended HB2 expires, and cities will be allowed once again to pass new rules forbidding discrimination against the LGBTQ community in private employment and public accommodations — though regulation of bathrooms stays with the state. The head of an N.C. mayors group said conversations this month were “a first step in an effort to work with each other, legislative leadership, advocacy groups, and business leaders in a thoughtful and open way.” (WBTV)

  • ‘Peeing pastor’ identified: Authorities have identified the North Carolina pastor who urinated on a woman during a flight from Las Vegas to Detroit on Oct. 12 as Daniel Chalmers, who runs Love Wins Ministry based in Raleigh. Previously, officials had said the person was a “well-known” N.C. pastor. Several Charlotte media outlets filed public records requests for the police report, and while rumors flew about who the pastor was, North Carolina evangelist Will Graham (Billy Graham’s son) took to Twitter to say he wasn’t the pastor involved. (QC Nerve)

  • Interesting grocery fact: The Publix in Indian Land, in South Carolina south of Ballantyne, is the “second highest producing Publix in the Charlotte region,” according to information about the shopping center listed on the website of The Providence Group. (UnTap Indian Land)

  • City to release 2040 plan: The city of Charlotte is releasing its “2040 comprehensive plan” in a series of “drive-in community meetings” on Saturday at the Park Expo. The sessions are at 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., and the last one includes a showing of “Back to the Future.” Tickets available here. The plan intends to help guide development in Charlotte in the next two decades in areas such as transportation and land use and is expected to include a sometimes-controversial provision to “allow more housing types in traditional single-family zoning districts to encourage housing diversity,” according to an executive summary released this week. (Biz Journal)

  • Wells Fargo backtracks on 401(k)s: Wells Fargo reversed course last week and said it would continue matching the 401(k) contributions of high-earning employees. Just two days earlier, it had said it planned to eliminate the matching for workers who made more than $250,000, but “after additional review and consideration, we have decided to continue offering the 6% company matching contribution.” (Bloomberg)

  • You don’t see this every day: Pinky’s Westside Grill is requesting a rezoning from the city that makes minor changes and allows it to keep operating in its existing building and have just 5 parking spaces. The site plan says it will do no construction on the site but that “the roof mounted Volkswagen will not include text that references the business … The optional request is to permit a historic neighborhood sign/symbol (Volkswagen vehicle) to remain on top of the existing building.”

Best of Charlotte Nextdoor: parking lot cheese incident

In reply, more than 100 people weighed in on whether cheese is vandalism, Duke privilege and kids these days. Including:

  • Ed from Grier Heights: “That is the new internet craze to throw cheese at people and things. They then often post it and provide a stream of laughter and then others like yourself that are offended.”

  • Jesse from Eastway: “Just take the cheese off your car and move on with your life.”

  • Elizabeth from Cotswold: “If my child was acting like an idiot this way, I’d want to know to beat his hind parts and then take away the car.”

  • Craig from Providence Park: “They may move on to bologna next if the full fury of law enforcement isn’t visited upon these miscreants.”

  • Genna from McClintock Woods: “Nothing like some good old mob justice on Nextdoor.” —TM

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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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith