As the Omega Psi Phi Conclave ends today in uptown Charlotte, local tourism officials are recognizing its potential impact.
Not since 2014 has a larger convention been held in Charlotte, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA). That was the year Charlotte hosted more than 10,000 women who came to attend the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s 66th Boule, an event remembered for serving a three-course, sit-down meal to 10,450 sorority sisters, at the time the largest dinner event ever held at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Hotel and tourism officials could not provide a final estimate for the Omega Conclave, but the CRVA put the early registration number at more than 6,500 brothers. On top of that, an addition 6,000 to 10,000 were expected in the city over last weekend to attend related events, the CRVA told QCity Metro.
For Charlotte’s hospitality industry, still recovering from the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the convention brought some much-needed business.
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At the Westin Charlotte, the convention’s main hotel, rooms sold out well ahead of the convention’s July 22 start day. Seven other uptown hotels were used for overflow. They, too, reported being at or near capacity, according to the CRVA.
After seeing rooms sit empty during the worst months of the pandemic, Charlotte’s hotel industry is rebounding nicely, Axios Charlotte reported last week.
For the first five months of 2022, Mecklenburg County’s average hotel occupancy rate was 59.6%, Axios reported, citing CRVA data. That’s up from 52% in 2021 and 41% in 2020.
In the pre-pandemic years 2019 and 2018, hotel occupancy countywide averaged 69.3% and 70%, respectively, Axios reported.
It wasn’t just hotels that benefitted from the Omega’s convention. Uptown’s restaurants and bars were busy as well.
At Freshwaters, a Black-owned Southern cuisine restaurant in Charlotte’s Fourth Ward, co-owner Sharon Freshwater said her restaurant saw “big numbers” during the convention, with more than 100 Omega men stopping in to eat. She credited the recommendation of local hotels.
“I’ve been here seven years in Charlotte, and for them to have that great opinion about our food and respect of us, I felt really proud of my business,” she said.
Preston Gray, owner of Tailored Smoke, a cigar lounge in Charlotte, said his two locations (in uptown and Concord) were packed since Wednesday. Even before the convention, he said, he had formed a good relationship with the local Omegas.
“When I got into the cigar business (in 2015), they helped me and supported me tremendously,” Gray said. “To be able to make my space available to them to celebrate their brotherhood is very special to me.”
After two years of Covid-related restrictions, Omegas who spoke with QCity metro said they welcomed a chance to fellowship face-to-face. The fraternity’s 2020 convention was held virtually.
Herb Grey, a spring ’89 initiate at N.C. A&T State University, said he has been to eight conclaves since he crossed. He said many of his Omega brothers raved about Charlotte, calling it one of the best host cities.
Grey, who lives in Charlotte and is a member of Charlotte’s alumni chapter, Pi Phi, said “the experience was tremendous.”
“There are a lot of Omegas in Charlotte and the surrounding cities,” he said. “They got to be on display because they hosted a lot of events for individuals that were coming in.”
Bobby Johnson, 72, crossed into the Chi Epsilon Chapter at Albany State University in 1969. A retired law enforcement officer, he said he enjoyed attending panel events focused on the advancement of Black communities.
“We’ve got a lot of young men coming in with great minds and great attitudes,” he said.
Networking was a big draw for lots of first-timers, like 22-year-old Laderian Harris, a fall ’20 initiate at Tennessee Tech. Harris, currently majoring in computer science and an IT specialist in the military, said he enjoyed meeting new Omega brothers in the same field as him. He also praised Charlotte’s hospitality.
“I like sightseeing and being in a new city,” he said. “Every Charlotte person I met is really nice.”
Kylie Marsh contributed to this story.