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A casino in Atlanta?

It’s way early in the process, but there’s talk that MGM Resorts International may be interested in building a casino in downtown Atlanta. Given how Charlotte wants what Atlanta has, that’s a potential game changer here in the Queen City. Of course, we’ve got a big wildcard here in North Carolina already, with the Catawbas wanting to build a casino without state approval in Kings Mountain. And really, if you’re an Indian tribe that’s asserting that it has the right to build a casino in North Carolina subject to little or no state regulation, why settle for Kings Mountain, especially given the Uptown powers-that-be’s lust for hotel space?

H/t: JAT.

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McCrory Not Budging on I-77 Toll Project

Carolina Journal executive Editor Don Carrington has a 2,000+ word story out on the I-77 toll project. It begins:

RALEIGH — Despite widespread vocal opposition from area business leaders and residents, Gov. Pat McCrory and North Carolina Department of Transportation officials maintain it is too late for the state to scrap the controversial 26-mile Interstate 77 tolling project between Charlotte and Mooresville in favor of nontolled alternatives.

On May 20, state officials signed a 900-page, 50-year agreement with I-77 Mobility Partners, a subsidiary of a Spanish company, to build and operate the project, officially named the I-77 Hot Lanes Project. The project is expected to cost $648 million. Mobility Partners will set toll rates, collect the tolls, and — for the most part — keep all the proceeds.

Opponents of the project want the state to build additional lanes without charging tolls, and pay for them using existing funding mechanisms or with the highway bonds McCrory is promoting. Some opponents characterize a $144.5 million incentive payment from NCDOT to the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization as a bribe. Others predict nightmarish commutes, as the eight-mile stretch at the northernmost portion of the project will include only one lane traveling each direction, with little room to accommodate disabled motorists or emergency vehicles.

But McCrory is not budging on the issue, citing the high cost of terminating the contract and the faster timetable for completion promised by the public-private partnership.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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Rebuilding Memorial Stadium?

The basics, per the UPoR:

The city of Charlotte is considering using tourism money to help demolish and rebuild American Legion Memorial Stadium in Elizabeth to become a home for a Major League Soccer franchise.

Local investors who bought a Charlotte minor-league soccer team last year have said they would like to land a Major League Soccer team in Charlotte.

Jim McPhilliamy, president and managing partner of the team, the Charlotte Independence, has had several meetings with the Mecklenburg Park and Recreation Department – which owns the stadium – the city and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

A favored concept would be to demolish the existing stadium, which was built in the 1930s. After being rebuilt, the field would be wider – 75 yards across – to accommodate an MLS team.

It would first be rebuilt with about 9,000 seats to handle events such as high school football that the stadium hosts. The stadium now has about 20,000 seats.

It would be expanded to as many as 20,000 or 25,000 seats if the city lands an MLS team. That second phase of construction would likely include suites and other amenities that an MLS team would desire.

Questions, in no particular order:

• How much would it cost to rebuild Memorial Stadium? And what’s the split between the city, county, and “local investors.” If the project goes over budget, who pays?

• How much professional sports can Charlotte actually support? And if Charlotte doesn’t support McPhilliamy’s vision, who’s on the hook?

• How much “tourism money” does this leave the city with? And is this the best use of such funds, given that the Panthers will eventually come calling seeking big bucks for either additional Bank of America Stadium upgrades or a new football palace?

• Is rebuilding Memorial Stadium even the best use of that land? (I’m pretty sure that CPCC would love to put something on the site.) And how would a more modern stadium with more large-scale events impact CPCC?

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Seven conservative mistakes

Jennifer Rubin, writing in the Washington Post, highlight how conservative rhetoric often gets it wrong. A sample:

Third, hyperbole can make you sound like a nut. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on Friday made this pronouncement: “Today is some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history.” That is preposterous considering wars, stock market crashes, presidential assassinations, 9-11, natural disasters, riots and more. Speaking in such terms tells voters your priorities are screwy and your historical judgment is off-kilter.

Yup.

Rubin’s other points are “the intensity with which one utters disapproval is not a measure of one’s conservative bona fides”, “disobeying the Supreme Court is not an option”, “conservatives cannot rely on appeals to authority”, “playing victim is unattractive”, “avoid calls to run head long into a brick wall”, and “understand when you are in the minority and when you are in the majority.”

H/t: RH

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Jennifer Roberts releases some poll numbers

That say she’s well ahead in the race to be Charlotte’s next mayor — Roberts 30 percent, Dan Clodfelter 16 percent, Michael Barnes 16 percent, David Howard 9 percent, 29% undecided — with the big caveats being that those numbers come from a poll her campaign paid for, and in which it also tested some negative messages. The Roberts campaign won’t release the exact wording used.

So what’s the point of putting out numbers when the press and public has no means of judging their accuracy? Well, it allows Roberts to push the narrative that she is the frontrunner, which in turn helps her get more campaign donations and press attention.

Do I think that Roberts is a formidable candidate? Yes. Do I think she’s the runaway leader at this stage as her poll claims? I’d like to have some additional confirmation before I’d go that far.

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Google Fiber starts construction in Charlotte

No word yet on what specific areas they plan on offering service to or what their prices might be here in the Queen City.

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What’s a ‘subprime retailer’?

A Charlotte Observer headline the other day caught my eye: “Texas subprime retailer Conn’s planning big NC expansion.” Subprime retailer? Don’t think I’d ever seen those two words used before but, as it turns out, it is a fair description of Conn’s business strategy. As the UPoR explains:

Texas-based retailer Conn’s just opened its newest Charlotte location in the University area, and the rapidly expanding company plans to open another four locations in North Carolina by the end of the year.

The store, which sells appliances, electronics and furniture, offers financing to customers with subprime credit and sees Charlotte as an untapped market. According to Experian, the average credit score of Charlotteans is 654.

Back in January, punchcardblog offered up a detailed examination of Conn’s (CONN) business model. Some highlights:

CONN is a specialty retailer of appliances, furniture, mattresses and electronics with 89 locations in Texas and the Southwest. Significantly, CONN finances 77% of customer purchases through its proprietary subprime credit portfolio.

And:

Conn’s competes against Sears, Wal-Mart, Target, Sam’s Club and Costco, specialized national retailers such as Best Buy, Rooms To Go and Mattress Firm, home improvement stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, and locally-owned regional or independent retail specialty. Conn’s also competes against companies offering credit constrained consumers products for the home under weekly or monthly rent-to-own payment options. Such companies include Aaron’s and Rent-A-Center, as well as many smaller, independent companies.

How’s does Conn’s survive in this jungle? It has carved out a unique niche for itself. Conn’s has a narrowly tailored strategy to serve the financially strapped working class household. These customers represent a unique segment of the middle-income market that is underserved by traditional banking institutions. The core consumer base is comprised of working individuals who typically earn between $25,000 and $60,000 in annual income. The typical customer is unbanked and has credit scores between 550 and 650. This segment of the population has limited disposable income after rent, transportation, food, health care and communications. In and of itself, this is not sufficient to set Conn’s apart from the competition. The unique feature of Conn’s strategy is the subprime financing arm. By offering in-house financing, Conn’s makes an aspirational lifestyle available where it would otherwise not be. Their competitors typically do not provide a similar credit offering.

And:

While demand has grown, the number of lenders supplying credit to this sector of the population has decreased. The competitive landscape has changed dramatically since 2008. The industry’s traditional lenders, including Wells Fargo, HSBC, Citi and AIG, have recently undergone fundamental changes, forcing many to retrench and in some cases to exit the market altogether. Tightened credit requirements imposed by banks, credit card companies, and other traditional lenders that began during the recession of 2008-2009 have further reduced the supply of consumer credit for non-prime borrowers. In addition, recent regulatory developments create a dis-incentive for these lenders to resume or support these lending activities.

Concurrently, subprime credit card providers have exited the industry. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 added new restrictions on late fees, interest-rate increases and other pricing tools used by card issuers before the financial crisis.

Additionally, states have cracked down on payday lenders, effectively pushing payday lenders out of many states.

As a result of the reduced output of these companies, access to credit has fallen substantially for the non-prime segment of customers. The alternatives are not particularly attractive. Many subprime borrowers have turned to title lenders and subprime auto lenders, both of which are experiencing booms. New entrants are also entering the market.

The biggest risks to Conn’s future thus would seem to be that larger existing retailers start offering subprime financing, eating into Conn’s potential market; and that Conn’s finances purchases for too many people that don’t pay on time or at all. The company had an issue with that last year, which cost its CFO his job, upset Wall Street, and inspired the punchcardblog analysis.

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The NBA All-Star Game comes to Charlotte in 2017

Which is a big deal according to the usual Uptown suspects — lots of celebrities and press in town — except for one little problem: Come 2018 or probably March 2017 almost no one will remember whether the 2017 NBA All-Star Game was played. Case in point: Without looking, can you name where the 2014 All-Star was played? Or this year’s game?

(Answers: 2014: New Orleans at the Smoothie King Center. Yes, really. 2015: New York City’s Madison Square Garden)

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The latest on the state’s voter ID law

The latest development on of North Caolina’s voter ID is mighty curious. With approximately zero advanced warning, the General Assembly on Thursday modified the state’s voter ID requirement, adding a provision for citizens to cast a provision ballot if they complete a “reasonable impediment declaration” explaining why they don’t have a photo ID. The provision is like one that South Carolina has had since 2013 and seems pretty reasonable. But why all of a sudden and now? Well there’s this, per the Raleigh News & Observer:

…Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, questioned whether the hurry was due to the courtroom challenges to the 2013 voter ID law. “There’s a lawsuit on this law next month in Winston-Salem,” he said. “Your lawyers have clearly told you that your voter ID law is clearly unconstitutional.”

“Clearly unconstitutional” is probably a bit strong, but it does seem obvious that lawyers working on the case believe that the chances of federal and (especially) state courts being okay with the voter ID law would be greater if it provided for reasonable impediment declarations.

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July 2015
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