One year until RNC 2020: Everything you need to know.
The 2020 Republican National Convention will be held next August, and officials believe it will have a lucrative financial impact on the Charlotte area.
Author: WCNC Staff
Published: 9:00 PM EDT August 22, 2019
Updated: 4:08 AM EDT August 23, 2019
RNC 5 Articles

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — We're just one year away from the 2020 Republican National Convention taking over Charlotte and putting the nation's eyes on the Queen City. 

The RNC will be held at Spectrum Center in uptown August 24-27, 2020. It's presumed that President Donald Trump will once again accept the nomination of the GOP in his bid for re-election. 

Just a few weeks ago, the RNC unveiled their logo. It features Charlotte's well-known crown logo alongside the Republican Party's iconic elephant. Reaction to the logo was, well, mixed. With less than a year on the official countdown clock, the RNC Host Committee is working diligently to find 8,000 volunteers to help welcome visitors to Charlotte next August. 

So, how did we get here? 

In February 2018, the City of Charlotte announced it was evaluating their options about hosting the convention. On April 3, Charlotte officially submitted its bid for the RNC. Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO Tom Murray said the convention would have a "substantial economic impact" on the Charlotte area. When Charlotte hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2012, it's estimated the convention had a $163 million impact on the city.

By early July, all signs were pointing to Charlotte being the host city. A report in the Wall Street Journal said Charlotte would be picked over Las Vegas. It wasn't long before concerns were raised about Charlotte hosting the event

"If you are going to bring something to town that is potentially violent, divisive, then we should ask the people of Charlotte how they feel about that as well," said City Councilman Braxton Winston. 

Fellow Democrats LaWana Mayfield and Justin Harlow also questioned Charlotte hosting the RNC. Former Republican State Representative Charles Jeter said the city shouldn't ignore the financial boost and exposure the convention would bring. 

"This is what makes a city a national player," Jeter said. "And as long as North Carolina is a swing state and Charlotte is a big city, we are going to be hosting conventions."

On July 20, 2018, Charlotte was officially awarded the 2020 RNC in an unanimous vote. Mayor Vi Lyles tweeted her approval of the RNC's decision, calling the convention a "positive message supporting our city's belief in acceptance and inclusion."

Laura White with the CRVA said city officials believe the convention could be more lucrative than the 2012 DNC. Like, three times as much revenue as the CIAA basketball tournament, which is the largest annual event in Charlotte.

Fast forward almost a year later, and Charlotte's city council found themselves asking a tough question: Can Charlotte back out of hosting the convention? It all started when the crowd at President Trump's rally in Greenville, North Carolina broke out in a "send her back" chant referring to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia. 

City Council said "racist hate speech" will not be tolerated in Charlotte and passed a resolution condemning Trump's comments and tweets. Patrick Baker, Charlotte's City Attorney, said he wouldn't recommend Charlotte trying to get out of hosting the event

"I don't believe you are going to be able to walk away from this contract, even if you are willing to pay the financial penalties for walking away," Baker said. "I don't believe you'd be allowed to walk away."

Essentially, the city could try to breach the contract and still have to host the RNC. 


One year until RNC 2020: Everything you need to know.

Chapter 1

"If anybody says they're not nervous, I would challenge them."

Sheriff Garry McFadden played a big role in the 2012 DNC. Now, he's concerned about keeping everyone safe during the RNC.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden said he has major security concerns about the Republican National Convention and he says his deputies are already taking special training to be ready. 

In 2012, McFadden was a retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police homicide detective in charge of protecting the mayor, Anthony Foxx, who played a big role in hosting the convention. 

"Wherever the mayor went, I went with him," McFadden said. "My role during the DNC was dignitary protection."

McFadden dealt with the inner workings of convention security on a daily basis. He said security was the tightest he'd ever seen. 

"Unbelievable," McFadden said. "I've never been to any security detail like that. Secret Service — it is actually their party in our house— so we work very closely with them."

This time around, McFadden is the sheriff and is already preparing for the big event. From a dignitary protection team to making room in his jail for mass arrests, McFadden says he's genuinely worried about keeping everyone safe during that week next August.

"I've been in law enforcement long enough to say I'm concerned," McFadden told NBC Charlotte. "I hope it's a great convention, hope not an incident, but you have to be concerned about it."

During the DNC, McFadden says law enforcement literally got to know the people who were planning protests. 

"We talked to them prior to coming, we talked to the organizers," he said. "We had their phone numbers, they had our phone numbers and we built true relationships with them prior to the DNC."

For the most part, DNC protests were peaceful. This time around, McFadden is worried the protests will have a different feel. 

"I think you have to look at America, to be honest, and if anybody says they're not nervous, I would challenge them," McFadden said. "Look at the climate now, what we worry about. What I worry about is that lone wolf.

"It's a time for somebody to make a statement: I'm concerned."

McFadden says he's not sure how all the local law enforcement will work together yet. It's still a year out, of course, but he knows this will very much be a team effort.

Chapter 2

"This is a city of love, this is a city of respect and this is a city that invites anybody and everybody to come."

While there are fears of violence and rowdy protests, some groups intend to try a more loving approach.

A year out, a handful of organizations, including at least one hate group, are already making plans to be in Charlotte for the RNC. 

Multiple groups, some of which were in Cleveland in 2016, said they intend to be in the Queen City, and local groups are coming up with their own game plans. 

"We want to meet them with love, respect and hospitality," said Vivian Richardson. 

Other local activists believe there's the potential for trouble on the streets. 

"I think you can definitely expect Antifa to come. I think you can expect the Klan or friends of the Klan," said Jibril Hough, who intends to be right in the middle of it. "We may march, but we do not plan on any violence."

Hough says he plans to peacefully protest President Donald Trump and any hate groups who will be here to support him. The self-proclaimed disrupter is ready to send a message to people looking to cause problems.

"I think it's important that we let the world know we oppose him being in our town," Hough said. 

Richardson also plans to send a message to outsiders coming to Charlotte. 

"We want them to know that this is a city of love, this is a city of respect and this is a city that invites anybody and everybody to come," Richardson said. "We have to remember we all don't think alike and we have to be able to listen, to really listen to what people have to say."

It's not about words for Richardson. She's all about actions. 

"It is amazing and it is exciting and it is really my heartbeat," she said. "I love this city, I love people."

Richardson is part of a group of more than 60 ministries, churches and nonprofits called Love Charlotte, which was created ahead of the convention with the intent of bringing people together. 

"You don't go in with your own agenda, but what is it that the people need and how can we support you?" Richardson asked. "How can we build you up?"

Their goal is to spread love here now so visitors, even those who may lash out, feel heard. Their members are being tried by CMPD and the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team. 

"We feel that with the training in what to say, how to say it, what not to say most importantly, it will level out some or all of that disagreement that people may have," Richardson explained. 

Among those who have already expressed interest in coming to Charlotte include a group of nuns who travel the country by bus (Nuns on the Bus) and the controversial anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. 

Both groups were in Cleveland in 2016. Overall, Cleveland fared well with protests, but failed in one instance of free speech: when a protester was arrested for burning an American flag. The city eventually paid the man a $225,000 settlement. 

Charlotte hasn't announced any protest plans, but during the 2012 DNC, the city held a lottery to assign times for speeches and marches for more than 40 speakers and organizations. 

Not everyone agrees on what life will be like in Charlotte after the RNC, but Richardson and Hough are preparing. 

"I think we should start with prayer and if anybody needs prayer, it's this city with Trump coming to town," Hough said. 

"We believe that prayer works and prayer is the answer," Richardson said. 

Both Hough and Richardson said they plan on holding prayer services ahead of the RNC. Love Charlotte is hoping to pray in the heart of uptown at Trade and Tryon on the Sunday before the convention.  

Chapter 3

Keeping the Queen City safe

Charlotte is the official host city of the RNC, but it's going to take a collective effort with help from surrounding communities to make it happen.

From police resources to the economic impact of neighboring communities, the 2020 RNC's reach will go well beyond uptown Charlotte. 

Some police departments have already decided to assign officers to the event, while others say they won't be helping. Regardless, almost every town in the area is having conversations about their police resources helping with the RNC. 

Tega Cay is still trying to decide if they'll provide officers, and if so, how many. And while it might feel far from the action of Charlotte, 2016's civil unrest in the wake of the Keith Scoot shooting sparked new dialogue for the neighboring York County town.

"It could happen anywhere, even right here in Tega Cay," said Tega Cay City Manager Charlie Funderburk. "I know the chief has been having conversations with [CMPD] Chief Putney and others around the state."

Funderburk said the town is still trying to settle on whether they will send officers to the 2020 RNC. The devil's in the details, he says.

"It depends on the request and the length of time they would be needed," he said.  

Other Charlotte suburbs have made a decision. Rock Hill Police said they will send officers to the RNC, saying it would be a similar number to what they assigned for the Democratic National Convention in 2012. Gastonia Police also told NBC Charlotte they'll provide support. Neither department gave exact numbers when asked. 

Concord Police didn't provide any information when asked about police resources, instead referring all inquiries to the United States Secret Service. 

A few other agencies, like Cramerton Police, said they don't have the resources to provide officers to the RNC. And as of this week, the Union County Sheriff's Office doesn't plan on sending deputies to the Queen City, citing the unknown impact the RNC might have on surrounding communities in their jurisdiction. 

RELATED: CMPD requesting out of state help for 2020 RNC

Both of those departments, like Tega Cay, emphasized the importance of protecting people closer to home during the convention. 

"Obviously our priority, first and foremost, will always be the city," Funderburk said.

John Lassiter, CEO of the RNC Host Committee, said he's confident the Secret Service and FBI will have a strong security plan in place. 

"Without disrupting day-to-day life for the folks who go, 'I'm not going to the convention,' they just want to make sure their families are safe," Lassiter said. 

When it comes to the economic impact of the RNC, several communities are expecting a boost. That includes Gaston County, which expects the RNC to be similar to NBA All-Star Weekend. As a result, Gaston County has increased their hotel occupancy by 20%. 

In York County, tourism officials said they're expecting a "moderate" impact, particularly with hotels. An estimated 50,000 visitors are expected to bring $200 million in spending over the course of the RNC. 

Now, communities big and small are staying in close contact as the main event draws closer. 

"When there's a big event, or disaster or things of that nature, we are always on the phone with each other coordinating and communicating who needs help," Funderburk said. "I don't envision this would be any different." 

Funderburk said a final decision over whether Tega Cay provides officers to the RNC will be made in the next four to six months. 

Chapter 4

Show me the money

The economic impact remains the biggest selling point for the RNC. But are the projections too ambitious?

Money remains one of the biggest selling points for bringing the RNC to Charlotte but we can all learn a lesson from past conventions. And it starts by looking in the mirror. 

Not only did the 2012 DNC under-deliver, both the 2016 RNC and DNCs came in below projections, too. 

"For those who want to see our city grow and strengthen, and create more jobs and more hospitality and tourism, this is an absolute win-win," said John Lassiter, CEO of the RNC Host Committee.

The national spotlight, the excitement and the money are being called a rare opportunity by the host committee. And there's no doubt the convention will provide an economic boost for hotels, taxis and caterers, but beyond that, skeptics say there won't be a significant impact.

"The word of caution is that everybody's not going to get rich out of this," said UNC Charlotte political science professor Eric Heberlig. "It's not like there's money going to be raining down on everybody and making a huge difference in the city economy."

Heberlig supports bringing the convention here, but he believes the dollars are secondary. 

"It's really about marketing the city, helping our reputation," said Heberlig. 

He says economic impact projections are often inflated in an effort to get everyone on board. Take the 2012 DNC in Charlotte, for example. Businesses close to the convention felt a positive bump thanks to the $164 million economic impact, but others walked away disappointed. 

Some previously suggested that convention would bring up to a quarter of a billion dollars to Charlotte. It didn't. The 2012 DNC came up $86 million short of those estimates. 

Cleveland and Philadelphia's conventions in 2016 also performed below expectations. At the RNC in Cleveland, the $142 to $188 million impact was well below the projection of $200 million. The DNC in Philadelphia was even more off. What was once expected to pull in $350 million had a $230 million economic impact. 

"We don't project future economic impact because you really want to have all the facts before you get it," said Tom Murray, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. 

Murray said the CRVA has played it cautiously, hoping the 2020 RNC at least matches the city's historic number of $163 million from 2012.

"We expect to be in that range if not bigger," Murray said. 

Chapter 5

The security flaw Charlotte still hasn't fixed

Eight years after a major security issue from the 2012 DNC was exposed, that vulnerability still exists ahead of the 2020 RNC.

Below Charlotte's noisy streets there's a quiet underground, complete with a massive network of tunnels. These arteries extend through the heart of the Queen City and run near and underneath some of Charlotte's hottest spots. 

They're meant to prevent flooding by funneling rainwater but someone with bad intentions could use them to create another kind of disaster. And all you need to access them are rain boots, a flashlight and a little know how. 

"You look at, from explosives, improvised explosive devices being detonated underneath the city, could be catastrophic from an infrastructure standpoint," said former FBI assistant director Chris Swecker, who also once worked as the head of security of a major bank in uptown. "It's surprising it hasn't been completely secured.

"It's a known vulnerability."

And yet, anyone can walk within earshot of Charlotte's busiest highways. 

The city has a series of outlets that intentionally allow water to exit, and unintentionally let people enter, including one near a city park. According to the city's public map, it leads near the Charlotte Convention Center and NASCAR Hall of Fame. 

Judging by the graffiti sprayed up and down the tunnel, it's fair to say they're not exactly secret. 

There's another tunnel that travels right in front of Spectrum Center. In 2012, Charlotte leaders said the tunnels needed to be secured for everyday life, not just because of the DNC. 

At the time, the city promised safety measures would be completed at the right time and locations. NBC Charlotte only found one addition that could stop someone and it's so faint, you'd almost have to know it's there to even notice. 

There are signs posted at other entry points, too, that say "hazardous confined space." Swecker says a sign isn't stopping anyone with bad intentions. 

"I'm confident before the RNC it will be taken care of," Swecker said. "It won't be a vulnerability for the RNC, I think the point being it's a vulnerability for an ongoing basis."