The Charlotte Area Transit System, aka CATS, began light-rail service in 2007.
Charlotte Area Transit System
Then Charlotte’s visionaries looked at the airport, less than a 15-minute drive from the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets — the center of the city — and made the prescient decision to turn it into an economic engine. Today, Charlotte Douglas International Airport is the sixth-busiest in the world and will become more dynamic in 2014 when the Charlotte Regional Intermodal Facility is completed. That will link air, rail and truck freight in one spot, allowing the city to leverage its location and facilities and make it more of a global hub. “It is part of the DNA of those of us in Charlotte to continually aspire to be more than what we are,” says Bob Morgan, president and CEO of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

In creating a gateway to the world, Charlotte has opened its doors to visitors, businesses and a continuing influx of new residents who have expanded the population by 32 percent since 2000, according to Forbes magazine. “We have been able to invest in diversification and not sacrifice our values,” says Johnny Harris, president and CEO of developer Lincoln Harris.

NOW YOU KNOW: Charlotte’s NFL team, the Carolina Panthers, first made the playoffs in just their second year of existence (1996).
Harris was instrumental in many facets of Charlotte’s growth, particularly the SouthPark area, one of the largest business centers in North Carolina behind downtown Charlotte and downtown Raleigh. “We’re one of the fastest-growing areas in the country, and our airport and access to the world are second to none,” Harris says.

With a young, diverse and expanding workforce, a cost of living below the national average and an airport that provides nonstop flights to every major North American city and many in Europe and South America, ­Charlotte has separated itself from other similar-sized cities. As the city has grown in political prestige and business power, its entertainment and cultural assets have also progressed dramatically.

Charlotte, in short, has something for everyone. Want young, energetic and funky? Go to NoDa, the emerging art district two miles from downtown. Have dinner at Cabo Fish Taco, then listen to live music at The Evening Muse before hitting Amélie’s for fresh pastries in a place that never closes.

Want an upscale night in the city? Book a room at the Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, have a dinner of locally grown vegetables and locally raised pork at the Harvest Moon Grille, catch a show at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, then duck into Rí Rá Irish Pub for a nightcap.

If you’re into sports, pick your season and pick your game. The NFL’s Carolina Panthers, led by quarterback Cam Newton, are a regional passion. Michael Jordan, the legend, is the majority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, who will return to their roots when they become the Charlotte Hornets in 2014. NASCAR has three events each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Wells Fargo Championship each May at Quail Hollow­ Club is a ­premier event on the PGA Tour.

More into doing it yourself?