CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Boosted by the Democratic National Convention, Mecklenburg hotels generated more revenue in September than any month in at least four years, according to recently released tax receipts.

The county s hotels rang up about $61 million in sales in September, an 82 percent increase compared with the same month in 2011. In the last four years, the previous best month for the lodging industry was in March, when revenue was about $48 million.

During the DNC in early September, the region s hotels were almost completely full, with many charging two or three times as much as regular rates.

The sales numbers were based on new tax receipts released by Mecklenburg County.

County hotel and motel rooms sold are taxed at a special rate of 6 percent, with another 2 percent dedicated to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. That s in addition to the regular sales tax, which hasn t yet been tallied for September.

The county s restaurants and bars also did well, though their boost in sales wasn t as pronounced. They sold about $228 million of meals and drinks, based on receipts from the 1 percent prepared food and beverage tax.

That s the most money restaurants and bars have taken in this calendar year. But it s less than the $243 million they generated in August 2011.

Halcyon, a restaurant inside the Mint Museum, was a big winner during the DNC.

Maggie Ruppert, the restaurant s bar manager, said the restaurant was completely booked during the first three days of convention week, with private events for people such as Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and the Podesta Group, a Washington lobbying firm.

She said sales were up about 300 percent during that period.

That s a conservative estimate, Ruppert said. We did brunch, lunch and dinner buy-outs.

The fate of the restaurant industry is considered an important measuring stick for the economic impact of the DNC. Some economists have warned that such large events have a crowding out effect, in which locals stay home, depressing sales.

For instance, some uptown restaurants that cater to locals were closed during the convention.
Restaurants and bars have generally had a better 2012 than the year before. On average, sales are up 11 percent compared with the same period in 2011.

Food and bar sales were up about 30 percent in September 2012, compared with the same month a year earlier.

The DNC was the largest convention in the city s history. As many as 35,000 people came to Charlotte for up to five days, organizers said, and the host committee said it contracted with area hotels for roughly 75,000 hotel room nights.

Some hotels booked were in outlying counties, which aren t part of the Mecklenburg data.

Craig Depken, an economist with UNC Charlotte, said some of the increase in restaurant and bar sales is likely due to the economy improving overall. He cautioned that overall sales tax numbers are the best way to judge the DNC s impact, and he said it s important to look at a longer period, such as six months or a year.

Essentially we really don t know how much visitors spent, said Depken, who has studied the economic impact of political conventions in other cities. We don t know how much the residents stopped spending.

Depken noted tax receipts for food and beverages have had wild swings recently.

Before September s increase, sales had dropped 30 percent in August 2012 compared with August a year earlier. In July, sales were up nearly 60 percent compared with 2011.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority has hired an outside consultant, Tourism Economics, to produce an economic impact study for the DNC. That is scheduled to be released in December.

The CRVA has been criticized for wildly inflated claims of economic impact for past conventions.

In response, the CRVA and other groups such as the Charlotte Chamber commissioned the outside consultant.

Looking at overall sales tax receipts won t capture all of DNC spending, however.

People who rented their homes for several thousand dollars during the convention may not spend that money until months later. In addition, millions of dollars were spent before September on deposits for catering, for instance, or on construction at Time Warner Cable Arena.

It seems that DNC delegates and visitors primarily got around by taxi or chartered bus. The county s tax on rental cars was up only 5 percent compared with September 2011.

September 2012 wasn t one of the top months for vehicle rental revenue in the past four years.

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