One year after HB2: NCAA, NBA, concerts gone; local tourism saw initial resistance

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One of the many signs brought into Wilmington City Council Chambers following the passage of HB2 --- the so-called bathroom bill --- last year. (File photo by Hannah Leyva)
One of the many signs brought into Wilmington City Council Chambers following the passage of HB2 — the so-called bathroom bill — last year. (File photo by Hannah Leyva)

RALEIGH – Former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed controversial House Bill 2, the so-called “bathroom bill,” into law one year ago. Since then, the state has had some downs, but also some ups, in regard to tourism and economy.

The North Carolina General Assembly went into special session March 23, 2016, to pass what is officially titled the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act. It enacted a statewide policy banning individuals from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to biological sex.

In response to the legislation, entertainers as famous as Jimmy Buffet and Bruce Springsteen later decided to skip over North Carolina stops. In addition, the NBA pulled its All-Star Game from Charlotte and, most recently, the NCAA and ACC relocated Men’s Basketball Tournament games from inside state lines.

As reported by the Charlotte Observer’s Jim Morrill, the state could be in position to lose NCAA games until 2022 if HB2 is not repealed.

“The NCAA has put North Carolina on notice, and the stakes for the future of basketball in the state could not be any higher,” said JoDee Winterhof, Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “North Carolina lawmakers have run out of time for their reckless political gamesmanship, and they must immediately vote for full and complete repeal of HB2. It’s beyond clear that North Carolina cannot afford one more day of this deeply discriminatory law.”

Former Gov. Pat McCrory. (File photo by Ben Brown)
Former Gov. Pat McCrory. (File photo by Ben Brown)

While bigger venues have lost out on several top of the line concerts and sporting events, numbers in certain categories represent an argument that the bill has not deterred visitors, or even business, from coming into the state. Some indicators show tourism within North Carolina, and the state economy, have  expanded since this time last year.

According to 2016 year-end lodging report by VisitNC , hotel occupancy, room rates and demand for rooms set records. The hotel/motel occupancy (64.9) was up 3.4 percent statewide from the year prior. That represents record level occupancy, according to the report.

Occupancy rates statewide have grown 16 percent in the last five years.  The 2016 average room rate (ADR) in North Carolina ($98.88) was up 3.6 percent from 2015, topping 2015’s record high ADR for the state.

Locally, tourism saw an increase for the sixth year in a row, based onoccupancy tax receipts, according to Kim Hufham, president of Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“We’ve seen growth through 2016,” said Hufham. “Most of our meetings and conventions have come from within the state, so it hasn’t affected us by and large. However, we did have the American Institute of Architects cancel a conference in April 2016 that would have had an estimated $1 million economic impact here.

“But, talking with our hoteliers and other accommodations, all signs show its going to be another strong summer season,” Hufham said.

Local vacation rental companies also cited initial resistance from HB2, but overall rental properties still had a good year and are seeing things pick up already moving into the peak of tourism season.

“Overall, we did have some properties suffer from the bill,” said Justin Ash, President of Sea Coast Rentals in Carolina Beach. “Not as a whole, but we did see a few properties see a dip in their income. Things are picking back up this year. I don’t know why that is, but as time has gone on, I think people are realizing the bill is going to be changed and some of those folks are making plans come back.

“We’ve got great beaches in our area. Most people I believe are understanding the decision was not a state populous choice and some people made that choice on their own and not an overall sentiment of all Carolinians,” he added.

The Washington Times recently published an article by Bradford and Valerie Richardson about the state’s business climate. North Carolina ranked fourth in the nation for attracting and expanding businesses with the arrival of 289 major projects, and seventh in projects per capita — the same as in 2015, according to Site Selection magazine, which released its 2016 rankings in its March edition.

Despite HB2 costing the state $630 million in business  due to companies like PayPal abandoning expansion plans in the state, Forbes Magazine listed North Carolina at No. 2 in its Best States for Business Climate in 2016. The 11th annual rankings were based on 40 metrics related to business costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life.

Though current Governor Roy Cooper has yet to tackle that issue that he opposed during the 2016 gubernatorial campaign, whether or not HB2 is having a detrimental effect on North Carolina can be debated based on numbers alone. What is certain, since HB2 went into law, lawmakers across the country have started to discuss the issue.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports state legislators in 16 states – Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming – have introduced legislation in 2017 that would restrict access to multi-user restrooms, locker rooms, and other sex-segregated facilities on the basis of a definition of sex or gender consistent with sex assigned at birth or “biological sex.”

Legislation in 13 states is pending (as of March 20). Legislation introduced in South Dakota,Virginia and Wyoming failed to pass.