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No NC budget? No problem for Charlotte luring major sports tournament, councilman says

Budget delays in the North Carolina legislature won’t diminish Charlotte’s chance to bring a major tennis tournament to town, one of the move’s biggest advocates said Friday.

The decision over whether the state will chip in millions alongside Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to lure the tournament is tied up in the budget. But “no date is on the calendar” for when Charlotte will find out if Beemok Capital is moving the Western and Southern Open from Ohio to the Queen City, City Councilman Malcolm Graham said.

Graham said at a news conference Friday promoting his own tennis tournament, the Charlotte Amateur Tennis Championship, he still has confidence in leaders in Raleigh to seal the deal on committing $25 million. Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have already done their part to provide financial incentives.

Charlotte City Councilman Malcolm Graham is hosting the Charlotte Amateur Tennis Championship this weekend at the Tennis Center at Marion Diehl Park in Charlotte, NC.
Charlotte City Councilman Malcolm Graham is hosting the Charlotte Amateur Tennis Championship this weekend at the Tennis Center at Marion Diehl Park in Charlotte, NC.

“Obviously, tennis is not the biggest thing in the budget … Folks are communicating so everyone knows where we stand, so I’m not worried about that,” Graham, himself a former state senator, said of the issue.

State legislators didn’t vote on a budget this week amid disagreements over legalizing non-tribal casinos and other gambling expansions in the budget, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. The budget is already two and a half months late.

Charlotte tennis complex proposal

Beemok first presented in May the idea of bringing the tournament and a new tennis complex to Charlotte’s River District, an idea dubbed “Project Breakpoint.” At the time, the company said it wanted the city, county and state to chip in for a third of the $400 million total cost for the project.

The Charlotte City Council in June approved spending up to $65 million to help entice Beemok to follow through on its proposal. In July, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners approved spending an additional up to $30 million on the project.

Graham, himself an avid tennis player and a vocal advocate for the project, said he believes “we’re in the third set” of the decision-making process. He spoke with Beemok founder Ben Navarro at the U.S. Open in New York earlier this month, Graham said, and the two text “from time to time.”

“At this point, it’s not a hard sell,” he said.

In their initial presentation, Beemok officials said they wanted financial incentives approved by the end of the summer so that a decision could be made soon after. Graham previously told the Charlotte Observer he expected Beemok to announce a final decision after the 2023 Open in Ohio — “maybe before early fall.”

As he waits for Beemok’s decision and a finalized state budget, Graham said he’s focused on making sure Charlotte has “put out best foot forward” on the project.

“To use a tennis analogy, the only thing that you can control is what happens on your side of the net,” he said.

The tournament would have an estimated annual economic impact of $275 million and bring 60 full-time, year-round jobs with an average salary of $60,000 to $85,000 to Charlotte, Mecklenburg County officials said previously.

The project calls for the construction of a complex that would contain four “major stadiums,” according to a July presentation to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, and also includes a park, an amphitheater and “greenway trail connectivity.”

The stadiums would include a 14,000-seat center court; more than 40 hard, clay and indoor tennis courts; an indoor pickleball facility; four outdoor pickleball courts; and a 45,000-square-foot “player/academy building.”

Graham on primary turnout, Eastland Yards

At Friday’s news conference, Graham also said the low turnout for the primary election was “extremely disappointing.” Less than 5% of eligible voters participated in the municipal election, according to the State Board of Elections.

“We can’t be tired … Local elections are more important than statewide elections or federal elections,” he said, adding that the lack of a Republican primary on the ballot this election cycle was “problematic.”

No Republicans or third-party candidates filed to run in District 2, so Graham’s primary win secured him another term on the City Council.

He has no interest in becoming mayor pro tem, he said Friday, and hopes to focus on infrastructure and regional transportation in his new term. That role often goes to the top vote-getter in the council’s at-large election. And with councilman Braxton Winston choosing to run for labor commissioner, first-place finisher on Tuesday, Dimple Ajmera, is primed for mayor pro tem.

As chair of the council’s economic development committee, Graham said he’s also “cautiously optimistic” on the future of the Eastland Yards development. The council voted in August to have the developers behind the two final ideas for the land work together on a combined idea.

“I think we’ve come to a decision … to get the best of both worlds,” he said.