From the hordes of national political reporters to A-listers such as the Foo Fighters, the N.C. Music Factory uptown looks like one of the biggest winners during the upcoming Democratic National Convention. The entertainment complex, developed by locally based Ark Group, opened in 2009, tucked away in a hard-to-find corner of uptown.
In little more than a week, the Music Factory won’t be a secret to anyone in Charlotte — or many others reading and watching the convention unfold across the country. The combination of public and private events before and during the convention could catapult the entertainment complex and the city into becoming more of a tourist attraction, cementing the investment by Ark Group.
For Noah Lazes, who spent more than a decade shepherding the Music Factory to life, the payoff is more about the next decade than the short-term financial gain of convention week. He hopes for heightened awareness across the region of Charlotte’s attractions, from nightlife to museums and additions such as the U.S. National Whitewater Center. The combination of those offerings, Lazes believes, finally gives the city a legitimate chance to become a weekend destination.
First, though, the Music Factory and the city must make sure to leave a good impression with the 6,000 delegates and 15,000 media members headed to town. The Music Factory hosts the first major event, the media party, on Sept. 1, closing all 14 of its restaurants, clubs and concert halls for four hours to give reporters, editors and producers free rein to sample Carolinas food, drink and culture. Other DNC events at the Music Factory include a Rock the Vote-backed Foo Fighters concert at The Fillmore, various delegate parties and private events featuring rapper Pitbull, actress Jessica Alba and rocker Dave Navarro’s all-star covers band, Camp Freddy.
Lazes, 41, walked through the Music Factory’s amphitheater this week while fielding questions about the DNC. Lazes believes the DNC represents a breakthrough for the city. What follows are more of his thoughts on the convention, edited for clarity.
On convention week at the Music Factory:
There’s a lot of exciting stuff happening every single day. We start with the biggest on (Sept. 1) and work our way down. The media party with 15,000 media people will be the first event ever to take over the entire Music Factory. You’ll have all 14 venues open, fully staffed, with entertainment, with food and beverage all complimentary to the guests. We had to make a good deal for (the convention organizers), so we tried our best to work out a compromise so the venues could still do some regular business that day (from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.) but also host such a fabulous event.
The venues understood what a long-term benefit this is for the property. We know media people aren’t shy staying at the bar, so we’re hoping that they’re just getting started (when the private party ends). We know that 99% of them don’t have cars and have hotel rooms, so now is their one night to party.
There’s a wealth of smaller luncheons, get-togethers for all kinds of organizations that involve different sponsors and media and delegations. It’s pretty cool that the biggest event of the whole thing — the Foo Fighters — (the public could) buy a ticket. And the media party will have a bunch of big announcements next week.
On besting the 2008 DNC media party in Denver:
Our goal is to top the (Elitch Gardens) amusement park in Denver. That’s where it was hosted in 2008. We’ve got to put on a better show than an amusement park. Which, knock on wood, I think we can do. I’m all for going to amusement parks with my 3½-year-old son, but the media people are in town for Saturday night.
They’re going to have a good time, and we’re going to show it to them.
On how the DNC helps business:
I keep pounding in people’s heads, the opportunity to have exposure to 15,000 media people, to have the attention of that level — you couldn’t do it with the biggest viral video because they don’t actually see it in person.
To have them physically here sets us as the Music Factory and the city up for lots of things in the future.
The way a lot of these events and planning and things happen are as simple as one guy says to another, “How about Charlotte? Maybe we should do it in Charlotte.” It gets us on the map. It gets a shot at it. We get a mention.
This is going to launch a lot of growth, activity, development in Charlotte. If those 15,000 media and 6,000 members of the delegation leave here and say, “Wow, they’ve got a lot there. They know how to produce events. They know to treat people right.”
On ripple effects:
Our weakness is we don’t have a lot of great conventions coming to Charlotte. It’s a fact. It’s a little depressing. But the good news is we’ve got a lot of upside. If we can bring in (event) planners that say, “I could do my event there,” there’s thousands of events (Charlotte could win after the DNC). Having owned five entertainment venues in Indianapolis, there’s a really nice parallel with Charlotte, but Indy has had amazing success with their convention center. And we would really see the business (from conventions in Indianapolis). There are a lot of events that are not necessarily sporting-related, but if you have the right convention center, the right city and the notoriety to attract them, then they can make big economic impacts. They can fill hotel rooms, sell dinners, sell drinks. It’s a long-term thing. I think the economic impact of this convention — we’ve got to be careful not to gauge in four or five days.
For us, yes, we’re going to have a very good week. Is it going to be good for the month of September, which is typically very slow? Absolutely. But is this one week going to make our year? Heck, no. Is it the equivalent of a few weeks’ worth of business? Yes.