CHARLOTTE — For Charlotte, the party’s over.
After a year of planning for the Democratic National Convention, delegates, journalists and even protesters have left North Carolina largest city.
But city leaders said today that they were thrilled with the national exposure and hope it pays dividends in the future.
Mayor Anthony Foxx said the city had a buzz during the convention.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in Charlotte. There were events happening all over featuring some of the brightest minds in public policy and American culture and lots of other topics. The city was just alive in a way that was magnificent,” he said.
For most of the week, Charlotte’s Uptown business district was teeming with convention-goers. The city estimated that 35,000 people attended the event, including delegates and journalists. The convention was held at the Time Warner Cable Arena, and city leaders say restaurants were filled at night.
Charlotte also saw an influx of protesters — some of whom pitched tents and camped in a city park until this afternoon. They had predicted that thousands would travel to Charlotte to express their anger at economic policies and other issues they say hurt the poor. But the massive protests never materialized amid a week of rainy weather.
The centerpiece was supposed to be the March on Wall Street South. But that demonstration — two days before the start of the convention — drew 800 people. Organizers had earlier predicted as many as 15,000 would come.
Several times, protesters marched along downtown streets. Twenty-five protesters were arrested — all but one from out of town — during the week, but the demonstration was mostly peaceful.
Police Chief Rodney Monroe attributed that to “a tremendous amount of advance planning,” communicating with protesters and not being too aggressive. But police had an overwhelming presence on the streets — with bicycles, foot patrols and motorcycles.
Foxx said Charlotte had studied other conventions closely while putting together its own plan.
“I think that that due diligence proved very helpful to us. Of course, particularly in the area of security, you can only anticipate so much. There’s always going to be some percentage of things you cannot predict,” he said, adding that officers and staff showed a lot of flexibility.
For a year, city leaders and Democratic host committee officials have insisted that Charlotte would reap the benefits of having a convention in its city. They estimated that the event would generate some $200 million in revenue, from the security expenses to delegate spending to the host committee contracts with local caterers and other businesses.
City officials speculated that the convention and the media attention would promote Charlotte’s image as a symbol of the New South — a city of 760,000 people in one of the fastest-growing areas in the nation.
Charlotte’s business district is home to the headquarters of Bank of America and major operations for Wells Fargo, two of the largest U.S. financial institutions. It’s also the headquarters for Duke Energy, the largest electricity provider in the country.
Foxx said they want to use the convention to attract business.
“Obviously we want to do everything we can to parlay what the world knows about us into job growth. We certainly want to be able to quantify the economic impact of the convention,” he said.
Experts who have studied the economic impact of political conventions and other large events like the Olympics say that while host cities do reap a short-term economic windfall, the loss of local, regular business isn’t always factored in to those figures.
“No one really bothers measuring up the number of Bank of America people who aren’t in town working. But they are happy to include all the delegates in town spending money,” said Victor Matheson, an economics professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., who has studied the effects of large events on cities.
Matheson added that even anecdotally, he hasn’t seen much evidence that big events like a convention draw businesses seeking to relocate.
“Obviously these events put cities in the limelight. But usually what people remember out of this is not necessarily the cities but what goes on at the conventions,” he said.
With Charlotte, they also might remember the weather: President Barack Obama was supposed to make his acceptance speech at the outdoor 74,000-seat Bank of America Stadium. Instead, it was moved indoors because of the threat of thunderstorms.
Still, people were happy the convention was held in Charlotte.
Janet Connors, a waitress at an Uptown restaurant, said business was strong.
“Tables were filled and we had a lot of people waiting for tables. And the tips were good. Everybody was in a good mood. It was real festive on the streets,” said Connors, 24, of Charlotte.
Today, the city streets were unusually quiet. Workers had removed steel barricades that protected buildings. Convention-goers were either home or on their way.
Because of potential traffic issues, parking problems and protesters, many downtown businesses told workers that they could telecommute during the convention .
Congress gave the city $50 million for security and the city amassed 3,000 police officers from around North Carolina and other areas in addition to its force of 1,750.
But by late today, most of the police officers had disappeared from Uptown streets.
“It’s a little easier to get around,” Connors said.