The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge has a popular daily-fee golf course.
Bissell Companies
The U.S. National Whitewater Center, which offers rafting, kayaking, mountain biking and zip-lining, sits on the west side of town. Daily-fee golf courses abound, including The Golf Club at Ballantyne, Springfield Golf Club and Rocky River Golf Club. Pinehurst Resort, the world-famous golf resort, is about 90 miles east. The Blue Ridge Mountains are a two-hour drive from Charlotte, and the beach is a little more than three hours away.

“What I always enjoyed as mayor and I still enjoy as governor: When outsiders come to Charlotte, they go, ‘Wow!’ ” McCrory says. “We’ve always been kind of underestimated, and we’ve used that to our advantage. We’re kind of quiet about our strengths because then our competition will underestimate us.”

When the NCAA held the Final Four in Charlotte in 1994, city leaders created a temporary uptown entertainment district for the thousands of visitors who came to college basketball’s championship weekend. Empty storefronts were turned into bars, and the entire area had the feel of an expanded­ street festival. Twenty years ago, Center City was a place people worked, ­commuting in and out each day and leaving the business district lonesome in the evening. It’s not that way anymore.

“For those who came to the Democratic National Convention, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. And some of those people will come back,” Morgan says. “It didn’t transform our economy the way the Olympics might, but it changed the perception of Charlotte. It made a lot of people more aware of Charlotte.”

Fueled by the aggressive expansion of the business community — Charlotte is home to nine Fortune 500 companies — downtown is now an attraction. It has also become home to more than 12,000 residents, adding to the upbeat vibe, adding more shops, grocery stores and restaurants amid the bank towers. “Our downtown is really our living room,” McCrory says.

It’s a big reason the 2012 Democratic National Convention was held at Time ­Warner Cable Arena, which is tucked into the downtown footprint. The convention was so successful, it led to speculation that the Republican National Convention could be in Charlotte in 2016.

“I think what’s more important to me in the future of the city is not whether we can host another large-scale event,” former mayor Anthony Foxx says. “It is really that we reminded ourselves all over again of what we can achieve when we put our minds to it. This city’s ability to achieve great things is absolutely limitless, and I think we proved that to ourselves all over again [during the democratic convention].”