Once dismissed as “a trifling place,” NORTH CAROLINA'S BIGGEST CITY is now hailed as a thriving metropolis.
IN THE MID-1980s, when a Charlotte businessman had the audacity to suggest his city was worthy of a franchise in the National Basketball Association (NBA), a sports columnist in Phoenix impishly wrote: “The only franchise Charlotte is going to get is one with golden arches.” That slight was hardly original. Charlotte had been dissed by an individual of far greater stature long before. In 1791, the first president of the United States visited and was not impressed. In his diary, George Washington wrote that Charlotte was “a trifling place.”
And to think: This is a city named after Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the wife of King George III of Great Britain, thus its “Queen City” moniker.
The days when Charlotte could be dismissed as a major city, however, have ended. It now is a hub for the banking and health care industries, is home to franchises in the National Football League and the NBA, houses the wildly popular NASCAR Hall of Fame, features a booming culinary and social scene and has made significant advances in the arts.
It also has become a political force. The 2012 Democratic National Convention was held in Charlotte, and the city is considered one of the front-runners to host the 2016 Republican National Convention.
While it has long been compared to Atlanta, which is 250 miles southwest, Charlotte is unique and original, its landscape framed by trees and its lifestyle a blend of big-city vibe and small-town touches. It may have evolved into a sophisticated large American city with a population of approximately 2.3 million in the metropolitan area, but it’s still small and homey enough for neighbors to meet to buy fresh vegetables at a downtown farmers market and where neighborhood hardware stores and Saturday-morning yard sales are plentiful.
“My vision was for Charlotte to have the qualities of a small town with the opportunities of a big city,” says Pat McCrory, who was mayor for 14 years before being elected North Carolina’s governor in 2012. “I wanted the best of both worlds. That’s exactly what Charlotte has maintained. It has a small-town quality of life, but it has opportunities that are second to none.”
Charlotte has evolved slowly but inexorably into what it is today. Flash back to the days of disco and leisure suits and Charlotte was a pleasant place to live but largely unnoticed outside the Carolinas. Was it Charlotte or Charlottesville or Charleston? Nationally, it was unexceptional. It had minor league hockey, minor league baseball and major league professional wrestling (for what that may have been worth). NASCAR lived on the outskirts of town, and what would become Bank of America was then the North Carolina National Bank.