Charlotte Center City Partners CEO says it's been a tough month but calls for business as usual. rrothacker@charlotteobserver.com
Charlotte Center City Partners CEO says it's been a tough month but calls for business as usual. rrothacker@charlotteobserver.com

Local

Charlotte leaders urge ‘business as usual,’ but some workers stay home

By Mark Price and Rick Rothacker

msprice@charlotteobserver.com

September 22, 2016 05:46 AM

UPDATED September 26, 2016 01:34 PM

Charlotte Center City Partners on Thursday urged the city’s uptown to “return to business as usual,” even as major employers told workers to stay home and businesses cleaned up damage from late-night protests.

The violence included damage and vandalism to the facades of hotels, bank branches, restaurants and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Michael Smith, CEO of Center City Partners, issued a statement Thursday morning saying it was “vital that we return to business as usual today, standing together as one Charlotte in our central business district.” But in a later interview he said he wasn’t going to second-guess any decisions made by businesses to keep workers home.

“We’re going to continue to encourage our partners and major employers to return to work and be part of the healing process,” Smith said.

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He called the unrest Wednesday night “incredibly unfortunate and unprecedented in our community,” adding that the right of the community to lawfully protest was stolen by “agitators and unlawful behavior.” He said he had received no reports on the monetary damage incurred but said it was in the “thousands not tens of thousands.”

The violence was the latest economic blow to Charlotte, which has seen major sporting events pulled from the city in protest of North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2, which limits protections for LGBT individuals. This summer, the NBA pulled the 2017 All-Star Game and this month the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference withdrew major college games.

“It has been a tough month,” Smith said. “It’s very unfortunate, but we are the same great city we were six, eight, 10, 12 months ago. Great talent. Great growth in (gross domestic product). Incredible growth in development. And we will return to telling that story.”

In a news conference Thursday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney agreed with Smith that the city should remain open. But a host of major companies, from Bank of America to Wells Fargo to Duke Energy, told employees to stay away from the center city and work from home.

“Since the situation was unclear late into the night, we decided to take appropriate steps when we did to provide team members some advance notice and allow them to consider various options,” Wells spokesman Josh Dunn said.

United Way of Central Carolinas said it, too, was instructing staff to work remotely. Front doors and several first floor windows were broken out during the protests. The damage will not impact the agency’s flow of assistance to its nearly 90 partner charities, officials said.

Bank of America’s headquarters at Trade and Tryon streets also sustained damage, with at least one window smashed.

Ally Financial closed its uptown and SouthPark offices. And Amelie’s Bakery said it would shut down its uptown and NoDa locations at 6 p.m. Thursday. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Fifth Third and First Citizens all kept Tryon Street branches closed.

Meanwhile, businesses started the cleanup Thursday, boarding up broken windows and removing graffiti.

Damien Monaghan, branch manager in Charlotte for Disaster One, said the Greensboro-based disaster recovery company started to receive calls about damaged businesses around 2:30 a.m. Thursday. Because of safety issues it waited until daylight to send out crews.

“We were staffed up and had people on a call rotation,” Monaghan said.

In uptown, the company boarded up smashed windows at the Hilton Garden Inn and neighboring Hampton Inn. That process should take a day and cost about $5,000, he said. It could take a week or two for glass repair companies to order the necessary windows and install them, he said.

On Thursday, Smith, of Charlotte Center City Partners, said he was receiving messages of support from counterparts around the country. He planned to join a conference call with other cities to discuss how they handled such crises and the aftermath.

“The truth is what we’re dealing with is not a Charlotte issue, but an American issue that’s playing out on a stage in center city Charlotte,” he said.

On Thursday afternoon, he also had a meeting with interim Charlotte City Manager Ron Kimble and other groups to make sure they were “rowing in one direction,” he said. Later, Smith’s group was hosting a CMPD briefing for private security companies that serve major employers and property owners in the center city.

Asked if CMPD could have done more to protect property Wednesday night, he said he wasn’t going to “armchair quarterback” and praised CMPD leadership. He said he was pleased the department had secured “several hundred additional resources that will be augmenting our team.”

Rick Rothacker: 704-358-5170, @rickrothacker