Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Atmosphere in Charlotte more free, fun than Tampa



CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Until this year, Mona Mangat hadn't attended a political convention.

So she thought it was perfectly normal last week that Tampa's streets had an occupied feel for the Republican National Convention — mostly deserted except for a stifling security presence.

But as she stood Monday afternoon in the center of one of Charlotte's main drags, South Tryon Street, Mangat saw the opposite as the Democratic National Convention kicked off.

Thousands teemed around a thriving street market where vendors sold everything from funnel cakes and campaign souvenirs, to T-shirts and paintings. Children rolled down a giant inflatable slide. Weekend warriors scaled a climbing wall. Live music blared, with actor Jeff Bridges seizing the stage. Later, James Taylor would sing.

"There was nothing like this in Tampa," said Mangat, a St. Petersburg resident and activist with Patients Over Politics, a nonprofit. "The whole city was under lock down. There was no live music, no street festival, no life to the street. This is a much better representation of Charlotte. I'm not sure what Tampa got out of it."

Now, there was live music in Tampa, though mostly at private events.

In Tampa's defense, Tropical Storm Isaac was threatening the area and scrapped the first day. Also, as journalists and delegates arrived in Charlotte, what they witnessed was a regularly scheduled CarolinaFest — which is akin to a Taste of Charlotte event — that was taking advantage of Labor Day.

"CarolinaFest is popular," said Gerald Ballard, a Charlotte mortgage broker. "This town knows southern hospitality. Many people are here just to taste the food and listen to the music. It's not all about the Democrats."

Credit the holiday. Credit the festival. Or the Democrats.

It didn't matter.

What was witnessed by reporters and delegates was a town where its residents were celebrating. What they found in Tampa was a city that felt desolate.

"The Democrats in a way were lucky," said Kyra Phillips, an anchor with CNN Headline News. "There were two stories the media was covering in Tampa, the convention and the tropical storm. Here, the streets are jammed. In Tampa, everything was indoors and you didn't see this outdoor activity."

Charlotte and Tampa have many similarities. Both are Sun Belt cities that have mostly grown in a suburban fashion after World War II. But while Tampa Bay has a larger population, Charlotte is more dense, with a population of 750,000 that is twice the size of the city of Tampa. While Tampa Bay has nearly no major corporations, Charlotte is a banking hub, with Bank of America and the east coast operations of Wells Fargo taking root here. While Hillsborough County has rejected light rail, Charlotte has embraced it.

"Rail is one of the main factors in turning Charlotte around," Ballard said. "Five years ago, Uptown was dead. Now there's always something going on."

Restaurants and coffee houses are just steps from the security perimeter that surrounds the Charlotte Convention Center, so most journalists can easily step out and experience local cuisine. In Tampa, the security perimeter was farther away from downtown's restaurants, making it harder for visitors to step outside the "bubble."

People already are lingering in the streets in Charlotte, unlike visitors and residents in Tampa, who seemed only to be walking to and from indoor events.

Tall security fences barricaded Tampa's main park and lined city streets. In Charlotte, smaller security fences — resembling bike racks — are used instead. Security personnel studied each badge in Tampa, opening each bag at each check point. In Charlotte on Monday, guards regularly waved people through.

"Free pass, free pass, come on through," smiled one of the guards.

The result, on this first day, was that Charlotte seemed much more open and free compared to Tampa's heavily guarded streets.

But the two cities did have one commonality.

Later Monday afternoon, the street crowd bolted for cover as it began to rain hard. That James Taylor concert? It got canceled.

"We got totally drenched," Mangat said. "It was like that hurricane we expected in Tampa hit us in Charlotte. Kind of ironic, isn't it?"

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@tampabay.com.

Democratic National Convention

When: Today-Thursday

Where: Charlotte, N.C. The first two days will be at the Time Warner Cable Arena. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will accept their nominations Thursday at Bank of America Stadium.

Today's key speakers: former President Jimmy Carter (via video), San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, first lady Michelle Obama.

Atmosphere in Charlotte more free, fun than Tampa 09/03/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 6, 2012 11:22am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Police: Uber driver's gun discharges during fight at Adventure Island in Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — An Uber driver's gun went off Sunday at Adventure Island during a fight between the driver and two passengers.

  2. Baker cautious on Pride politics

    Elections

    Rick and Joyce Baker strode down Central Avenue Sunday amid rainbow flags, corporate booths, and blaring music of the St. Pete Pride Festival.

    St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Baker chats Sunday with people at the St. Pete Pride Festival. As mayor, Baker did not sign a Pride parade proclamation, but now he says he would.
  3. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.
  4. Lightning among early suitors for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he planned to explore free agency for potential needs, which include bolstering his blue line and adding a wing or two.

    Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who can be a free agent Saturday, counts the Lightning among his early suitors.
  5. Senate leaders try to appease members as support for health bill slips

    National

    WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders scrambled Sunday to rally support for their health care bill, even as opposition continued to build outside Congress and two Republican senators questioned whether the bill would be approved this week.

    Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday, is one of the five Republican senators who announced they cannot support the health care bill as drafted.