Real-estate wallets opened wide for city elections

Plus: Drink-ordering app founders learn persistence; UNCC shooter gets life in prison; Local geek builds Charlotte skyscrapers in Minecraft

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Real-estate and construction-related donors pitched in 39% of donations in City Council elections last month

As city government primary elections entered the final stretch last month, some incumbents benefited from big infusions of money from donors connected to the real estate and construction industries.

Four of those candidates — Ed Driggs, James Mitchell, Larken Egleston and LaWana Mayfield — took in more than half of their August donations from those industries. Driggs, Mitchell and Egleston won. Mayfield lost.

Overall, a Ledger analysis of campaign-finance data shows that 39% of donations to City Council and mayoral candidates in August came from contributors affiliated with real estate and construction. Development is big business in Charlotte. It has been for a while. But it doesn’t account for 2/5 of the local economy, which suggests that developers, builders and other real-estate interests play an outsized role in getting local candidates elected.

Ely Portillo, assistant director at UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute, explains that people connected to the real-estate industry have incentives to donate because so much of their business is regulated locally. Just as big banks donate to federal candidates because they are regulated from Washington, real-estate types give locally because that’s where the action is — from rezonings, to new ordinances on signs and trees to new rules for developing land near transit lines. Those rules don’t always turn out how developers want, but they perceive that it’s smart to be engaged in politics.

“If you want to build in Charlotte, you have to play by the Charlotte rules,” Portillo tells the Ledger. “They have a strong incentive to have a seat at the table.”

Of the city candidates who raised $10,000 or more in August, many took in a substantial share of their donations from contributors in real estate and related industries. (Source: Campaign finance filings.)

The Ledger examined the 541 donations listed on the most recent financial-disclosure forms of Charlotte mayoral and City Council candidates, which generally covered contributions made in the month of August. Of the $187,000 in donations, more than $72,000 came from individuals and political-action committees linked to real estate or construction. They included architects, real estate brokers and executives with big companies such as Lincoln Harris, Childress Klein and Allen Tate.

The candidate who raised the most from the industry was Eiselt, who took in $16,750 from real-estate and construction-related donors in August, or 32% of her haul. Eiselt, who also raised the most money overall of any candidate, won in last week’s Democratic primary for an at-large council seat. Driggs, who won in the Republican district primary in the Ballantyne area, had the highest percentage of real-estate donations among major candidates, with 70% of his $14,100 in August coming from the industry.

Several real-estate-related donors liked to spread the money around:

  • The biggest single industry donor for the month was the N.C. Realtors PAC, which gave a total of $25,400 to seven candidates, including six incumbents, campaign disclosures show. The six incumbents won in the primaries.

  • Daniel Levine of Levine Properties gave a total of $4,950 to five incumbent candidates (Eiselt, Egleston, Matt Newton, Tariq Bokhari and Driggs). Darin Levine, also listed as being with Levine Properties, gave $2,800 to the same five candidates. Lani Levine, listed as having the same address as Daniel Levine, gave $1,400 to three of the candidates.

  • Lincoln Harris president Johno Harris donated $2,500 to four incumbent candidates (Eiselt, Egleston, Bokhari and Driggs).

Know more: You can search for candidates’ full campaign-disclosure forms at the State Board of Elections site here.

Rezonings have high approval rates

In a related bit of news, Portillo, of UNCC’s Urban Institute, had a piece this week examining Charlotte rezoning petitions. He found that the overwhelming majority in the last decade were approved: “City Council has only denied 27 rezoning petitions outright, out of more than 1,200 filed.” Putting the number in context, Portillo writes that means “there are more new breweries in Charlotte since 2009 than rezoning petitions turned down.”

In the last decade, the Charlotte City Council has approved about 88% of rezoning petitions, according to UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute. (Chart reprinted with permission.)

Portillo wrote that the approval rate is high because Charlotte is development-friendly and because those who file for rezonings often modify their requests to address the concerns of city staff and council members.

The full article is available here.

Tepper makes big donation to Lyles

One additional interesting tidbit from campaign finance reports: On Aug. 13, Panthers owner David Tepper donated $5,200 to the campaign of Mayor Vi Lyles, who faced only token opposition in her Democratic primary last week and is expected to cruise to victory in November against a little-known Republican opponent.

Tepper’s big donation to Lyles came two weeks after he said he would like a new domed stadium for the Panthers — which would probably require financial participation from the city.


Entrepreneur story: Bar app founders learn persistence

For the last few months, a company called Barpay has been working with bars in Charlotte on a smartphone app that makes life easier for customers. The app allows users at participating locations to avoid the crush of thirsty bar patrons by ordering drinks on their phones. (The app was featured in a Charlotte Agenda story in July.)

It’s an intriguing idea. Equally as interesting, though, is the entrepreneurial story of two young business partners trying to revolutionize the bar industry. An article in EveryIncome.com, a new national personal finance website, chronicles the ups and downs of Joe De Pinto and Dan Wagner, who met playing professional baseball:

[M]ore than four years in, their app has slowly moved into 36 bars around the country. They have experienced the thrill of starting something new and seeing it take off. …

They’ve learned a lot, and even took advice from billionaire businessman Mark Cuban. But the road to success in any new business is an uneven path, and does not come without sacrifice. 

De Pinto and Wagner put in long hours and sleep in RVs or on friends’ couches. They spend lots of time in bars but increasingly crave quiet nights at home.

They’ve put off personal relationships and marriages. They’ve foregone stable jobs and predictable salaries — all in pursuit of being their own bosses [with] a thriving tech startup. 

America loves to celebrate entrepreneurs, visionaries who develop a novel idea and seize opportunity. What’s sometimes missing from the popular depiction, though, is the sheer amount of time and persistence needed in the journey from an idea to money-making business.

Barpay co-founder Joe De Pinto enjoys an IPA at Sugar Creek Brewing Co. in Charlotte. Mark Cuban challenged his company to try to make their app take off — and they chose Charlotte for a big test site. (EveryIncome.com photo, used with permission.)

The full article is available here.


Loves me some internet

Reddit user builds Charlotte’s skyline in Minecraft:

Reader comments include:

  • “Very dope”

  • “The Charlotte skyline in Minecraft would be an amazing screen saver”

  • “That’s so f—ing sick. Well done.”


In brief

  • Allowed to live: The UNCC shooter who killed two and wounded four in a classroom in April was allowed to plead guilty Thursday. As part of a plea deal, he was sentenced to two life terms with no possibility of parole. Prosecutors said he was burdened with student loan debt and was looking for a way to go to prison. (WCNC)

  • The airport’s ‘Project Nighthawk’: Charlotte is working on a secret commercial development project codenamed “Project Nighthawk” that would occupy space at Charlotte’s airport near a new Amazon facility that is under construction, the Biz Journal reports. Details are scarce, but the airport’s director of economic and community affairs, Stuart Hair, “mentioned the project during a talk about the future of the airport as an ‘aerotropolis,’ or ‘airport city,’ as Hair would prefer to call it.” (Biz Journal/paywall).

  • BofA fake accounts? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is investigating whether Bank of America opened fake credit card accounts, similar to what Wells Fargo has been accused of. In newly released documents, “a lawyer for Bank of America acknowledged that the bank found specific instances of what he called ‘potentially unauthorized credit card accounts,’ though he added that the number of such accounts that had been identified was ‘vanishingly small.’” (American Banker)

  • Sticking with nuclear: Duke Energy plans to apply for licenses to extend the lives of its six nuclear power plants in the Carolinas for an additional 20 years, part of a plan to cut carbon emissions. If regulators grant the extensions, “some of Duke’s nuclear fleet could operate until as late as 2066.” (Observer)

  • Wells develops digital currency: Wells Fargo plans to “pilot its own digital currency powered by blockchain to help move cash across borders and between branches in real time.” Known as Wells Fargo Digital Cash, the currency “will be linked to the U.S. dollar and transferred using the bank’s distributed ledger technology to keep track of payments within its internal network. (Reuters)

  • Gas-price solutions: Gas prices in the Charlotte area have risen 14 cents a gallon in the last week. Here’s a Ledger piece from April with some strategies for saving money that go beyond “check GasBuddy.”

  • Cool development video: The Observer’s hardhat-wearing Danielle Chemtob takes viewers inside the renovation of the old Chadbourne Mill near uptown, which is being converted to retail and office space by White Point Partners. Neat drone footage and an interview with co-founder Erik Johnson take viewers behind the scenes. Prediction: All developers in town will want the Observer to make videos like this about their projects. (Observer)


Food and booze news

A weekly wrap-up of the week’s eating and drinking developments

  • Pumpkin patch, corn maze round-up: Charlotte Parent comes through with a big list of all the local places to “make a trip to the farm to pick out the perfect pumpkin, join in a hayride, navigate a corn maze, sip on apple cider.” (Charlotte Parent)

  • Oktoberfest round-up: Surprise! Breweries are promoting German-style beer-drinking in the next few weeks, complete with “stein-hoisting competitions, costume contests and even wiener dog races.” (CharlotteFive)

  • Ballantyne criticized for not being Italy: A Charlotte magazine restaurant reviewer, in search of a trattoria comparable to those she found when she studied Italian in Milan, ventures all the way to Ballantyne and enjoys a pleasant meal at Civetta at StoneCrest. She finds everything molto bene until she walks outside, “where rows of SUVs remind us we’re still in a Ballantyne shopping center, not an Italian trattoria. My hunt is never over.” (Charlotte magazine)

  • Self-proclaimed ‘action bar’ open: Watch out, bars filled with inaction. Coliseum V, near Plaza-Midwood, “offers Hoppin’-style self-serve booze, archery tag, laser tag and 22 virtual reality booths.” (Team coverage: Agenda, Biz Journal, Observer)

  • Optimist Hall addition: Mezeh Mediterranean Grill plans to open at Optimist Hall, the converted mill between uptown and NoDa, early next year. It built its menu “around cage-free, grass-fed proteins” and will serve “lamb kefta, steak shawarma and chicken kebabs as well as falafel.” (Biz Journal)


Correction

A piece in Wednesday’s Ledger incorrectly described the SEC’s accusations against the Florida company 1 Global Capital. The SEC alleged that 1 Global used investor money for its CEO’s personal expenses and falsified reports to investors. It did not describe its activities as a “Ponzi scheme.”


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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.