GREENSBORO — Ghassan’s Restaurant serves authentic Mediterranean food at five locations throughout the city.
But Ziad Fleihan, the restaurants’ operations manager, said there’s something special about the West Gate City Boulevard location.
It’s close to the Greensboro Coliseum Complex.
The concerts and sports played there are the two biggest draws for that restaurant, Fleihan said. He normally has extra staff on hand when such events are taking place.
So the cancellations of the NCAA and ACC championships — as well as the slew of events previously canceled as a result of House Bill 2 — have cost him “thousands” of dollars.
It’s pretty simple, Fleihan said Friday. No events equal no customers.
“You can’t make up for the loss,” he said. “You can’t replace the sales of an event, you know?”
Greensboro continues to add up the losses from HB 2, the controversial bill Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law in March after the General Assembly approved it in a one-day special session. The law, another its other provisions, prevents local governments from enacting their own anti-discrimination rules that include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
State Rep. Jon Hardister and Greensboro City Councilman Tony Wilkins are asking state legislators to hold a special session to repeal or revise House Bill 2.
But the most debated aspect of the law is that it requires transgender people to use restrooms in public buildings that match the gender listed on their birth certificates.
Concerts, conventions and other events have been scrapped in North Carolina in recent months, a powerful protest against a law many people deem divisive and discriminatory.
In an email Friday to local legislators, Henri Fourrier, the chief executive officer of the Greensboro Convention & Visitors Bureau, cited $29.5 million in economic losses based on such cancellations.
But the issue got even more personal for the state last week when first the NCAA and then the ACC — the latter of which was founded and has its headquarters in Greensboro — announced that they were pulling championship games from the city and the rest of North Carolina. The NCAA pulled seven 2016-17 championships from the state, including the first and second rounds of the men’s basketball tournament that were scheduled to be played at the Greensboro Coliseum in March 2017. The city also lost the Division III men’s and women’s soccer championships.
That’s a $16 million loss to the city, according to Fourrier.
Four of the 10 competitions that the ACC yanked from the state were to be held in Greensboro: women’s basketball, women’s golf and men’s and women’s swimming and diving.
That loss will cost the city $7.5 million, according to Fourrier.
Much of that revenue would have been generated by hotel stays. But the Greensboro Coliseum is losing $493,124 from concessions, parking, merchandise and rent for the NCAA games, according to Scott Johnson, the deputy director of the coliseum complex.
The coliseum also stands to lose $72,261 from the canceled ACC men’s and women’s diving events.
The losses are even more staggering across the state. The News & Observer of Raleigh reported last week that the ACC football championship, which had been scheduled to be played in Charlotte in December, had an economic impact of $32.4 million last year.
The town of Cary lost four NCAA championships: Division I women’s soccer and lacrosse; Division II baseball; and the Division III men’s and women’s tennis championships, which the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance estimated would have generated 5,300 hotel room nights and more than $2 million in visitor spending, now gone.
Some people are hoping those numbers will nudge legislators to change or repeal HB 2.
Fourrier, who did not immediately respond to a call Friday, wrote Guilford County legislators and asked them to repeal it. He said his staff hears concerns about the bill at almost every trade show they attend.
The Greensboro visitors bureau “has worked hard to build a brand,” Fourrier said. “We have been successful with tourism expenditures nearing $1.3 billion in Guilford County. I’m afraid, however, that this tourism success, along with our reputation, is going to be short-lived if nothing is done. Everyone speaks of bringing jobs to North Carolina, but if this hemorrhage continues we will soon be losing real jobs that are already in place.”
Fleihan, who stood next to Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan on the steps of the ACC Hall of Champions during a news conference last week about the NCAA cancellations, said the loss of such events particularly affect small businesses, adding that they are critical to the North Carolina economy.
Fleihan said the restaurant and hospitality industry may not be talking publicly about the bill, but privately they are all feeling its consequences.
When asked to comment about how the law is affecting the state, Lynn Minges, the president of the N.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association in Raleigh, issued a statement saying that the “hospitality industry has become collateral damage in a fight it did not start or ask for” and that restaurant and lodging businesses are “suffering the adverse impact of these policies through lost business and wages.”
Ted Oliver, the chairman of the War Memorial Commission, which advises the coliseum complex, said he is hopeful the city can get back its championships. He cited Greensboro’s “very strong” relationship with the ACC and its “pretty good” relationship with the NCAA — both of which he said took a long time to build.
Oliver, who in May sent his own letter to McCrory asking him to reconsider HB 2, said sports is big for the coliseum, but it also has to have a diverse portfolio of entertainment.
So as the city and state wait for HB 2 to play out, the coliseum’s staff is working hard to book other events, Oliver said.
“It’s been difficult, but we will keep on plugging,” he said.