Thursday, March 27, 2014

I stay away from blogging about ratchetness, and I don't think this is too ratchet, but I'm posting it because it involves a Charlotte woman. It also shows the perils of this everybody-wants-to-be-famous, social-media-fueled culture we're living in. The young lady who's receiving 15 minutes of fame is named Tina (whom I happen to sort of know, which is how I know she's a Charlottean). Rapper 2 Chainz was backstage at his concert in Charlotte when he discovered Tina had made her way back there among his entourage and friends. With a video camera rolling, 2 Chainz goes on a mission to find out who Tina is and who she's come to see, and he asks the question: "Is This Yo Thot?" For those of you unfamiliar, thot, or T.H.O.T., is one of the latest (disrespectful) hip hop slang terms and it stands for "that hoe over there."

2 Chainz performed in concert last Thursday at The Fillmore Charlotte, but his team just posted this footage on YouTube yesterday, and he shared it on Twitter then too. Subsequently, the #IsThisYoThot hashtag is blowing up (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). 


In the three-minute video, as 2 Chainz proceeds to ask Tina to leave, he also informs her that "while you're back here, you're in a blog territory." To which Tina replies, "Oh sh#t, this is going on a blog for real?" But rather than let that embarrass her, the young socialite and social media darling (she posts photos of herself with celebrities quite often) takes the opportunity to tell potential viewers to follow her on Instagram @iluvtinaa.

Keep your head up, Tina. Credit: Tina's Instagram

The video has also made its way onto WorldStarHipHop, where it is quickly approaching (and will surpass) one million views.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

UPDATE: The website for Charlotte Premium Outlets has gone live -- premiumoutlets.com/charlotte -- and there you'll find additional info, including details for its May 2 Job Fair and July 31-Aug 3 Grand Opening.

Over the last few weeks, I've traveled up and down Interstate 485 several times, from my home exit, Exit 16 (NC 16/Brookshire Boulevard) down past Exit 1 (NC 49/South Tryon Street). And by taking that route--most recently on Friday--I've noticed the rapid progression of construction for Charlotte Premium Outlets, which is visible from the interstate near Exit 4 (NC 160/Steele Creek Road). I used to travel along that Steele Creek Road exit often a few years ago, so I recall the large plots of vacant land around there. That's all about to change when this new outlet mall opens, with its target opening date of July 31.

Rendering of Charlotte Premium Outlets.

Charlotte Premium Outlets is a 50-50 joint venture between Simon Property Group (premiumoutlets.com) and Tanger Factory Outlet Centers (tangeroutlet.com), which each operate dozens of outlet shopping centers around the country--in the region, Simon operates Concord Mills and Gaffney Premium Outlets (as well as SouthPark Mall), for example, and Tanger operates two across North Carolina, two in Myrtle Beach, and one in Charleston. On Monday the companies announced the latest news on Charlotte Premium Outlets, including the scheduled opening date, that the number of planned stores has increased from 90 to 100, and a partial list of tenants that are already under contract.

The announced tenants are:

Adidas, American Eagle, ASICS, The Body Shop, Brooks Brothers, The Children’s Place, The Cosmetics Company Store, Crabtree & Evelyn, Fossil, Gold Toe, Haggar, Jockey, Justice, Kay Jewelers, Kitchen Collection, Le Creuset, Lindt Chocolate, Perfumania, Rack Room Shoes, Robert Wayne Footwear, Samsonite, Seiko, Skechers, Swarovski, The Uniform Company, Vitamin World, Wet Seal, and Wilson’s Leather.

That list of stores isn't anything to write home about, but keep in mind that this only reflects a little more than one-fourth of the total stores that will be housed there. And according to Construction Data Company's Building Blocks Blog, which regularly breaks news on commercial construction projects, many more tenants (more impressive ones at that) are planning stores at Charlotte Premium Outlets, such as:

Ann Taylor, BCBG Max Azria, BeBe, Calvin Klein, Charlotte Russe, Coach Store, Cole Haan, Famous Footwear, Finish Line, Guess Factory Store, Kenneth Cole, Levi's Outlet Store, Michael Kors, Oakley Vault, Perry Ellis, Polo Ralph Lauren, Saks Off Fifth, Soma, Tommy Hilfiger, White House Black Market, Zumiez, and others.

Charlotte Business Journal published a behind-the-scenes article and photo gallery of Charlotte Premium Outlets on Friday. The general manager of the outlet mall said she anticipates the first retailers will begin moving in about 60 days before the July 31 grand opening. Once completed, the stores will provide more than 900 full-time and part-time jobs.

I expect that this project will greatly transform this part of town, spurring a lot more development along I-485 Exit 4 and Steele Creek Road--pretty much the same way Northlake Mall did to its section of West W.T. Harris Boulevard when it opened in fall 2005. There were hundreds of acres of unused land around there before then. Today, there's not only the mall with its 150-plus stores, restaurants, and movie theater, but other shopping centers, big-box stores (Target, Lowe's, Best Buy), restaurants (P.F. Chang's, Mimi's Cafe, this new McDonald's), and a hotel (Drury Inn & Suites) have sprung up there over the years. New apartment complexes and townhouses have also been developed, with more currently under construction, and along the way I-485 Exit 21 opened, which helped make getting over there even more convenient.

Because of where Charlotte Premium Outlets is located, only four miles from the South Carolina border, it will undoubtedly draw plenty of shoppers from Fort Mill and Rock Hill. I also suspect it will attract a lot of visitors from Columbia because I believe this will become the closest outlet mall to them--about an hour-and-15-minute drive.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Latin American Contemporary Art (LaCa) Projects opened exactly one year ago this Friday (March 21) in the revitalized FreeMoreWest neighborhood in Charlotte. I've been wanting to check out the gallery for the past year, and finally made it happen last Thursday for the opening of Cuba: Art of the Fantastic. The opening reception drew a great crowd and featured live music and dancing in addition to the amazing artwork.


Curated by Abelardo Mena, Cuba: Art of the Fantastic is said to be the first exhibition of Cuban visual production in Charlotte and the surrounding region. Mena is the curator of Contemporary International Art at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, and this exhibit brings together four incredible artists: Juan Carlos Verdial, Alicia de la Campa, Alexander Gonz├ílez, and Vicente Hern├índez. "Full of imagination and fantasy, these artists are joined by their eagerness to freely reinterpret symbols of the Cuban culture, of its geography and history, Catholic and African popular religions, proverbs of the Cuban popular idiosyncrasy, and by their deep knowledge and intertextual game with iconic works of the Western, European, and United States, all places where they have gathered considerable momentum," as the exhibit is described in the press release.


Cuba: Art of the Fantastic is on display through May 2. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 1-5 p.m., and by appointment.

LaCa Projects, located at 1429 Bryant St., is a great space, tucked away amid other renovated buildings that have been transformed for commercial and artistic uses. Usually when I make my way over to FreeMoreWest, I'm visiting the restaurants along the West Morehead Street corridor, like The Burger Company, Pinky's Westside Grill, and Savor Cafe. But if you make short turns onto South Sumit Avenue and Bryant Street, you'll find LaCa, which is dedicated to the presentation, development, and promotion of Latin American art and culture. The gallery is part of a larger planned expansion that includes artist studios and a cafe.

Ventures like LaCa Projects show that there are many diverse cultures thriving in Charlotte, and you should certainly pay them a visit. For more details, go to lacaprojects.com, facebook.com/LaCaProjects, and twitter.com/LaCaProjects.


Friday, March 14, 2014

In addition to the blog post I wrote, I went on a little bit of a rant these last couple of days on Twitter and Facebook and in person to my friends about how the Carolina Panthers mistreated their best player ever: Steve Smith.

After No. 89 was officially released from the Panthers Thursday, a group of fans protested outside of Bank of America Stadium. Credit: @GoCarolinas

A lot of us lifelong Panthers fans are angry and, actually, we probably feel more like young Gavin here. But I'm guessing Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman wants us to have the same outlook as little Sophia, Gavin's sister (that we should be happy because we have young stars in Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly). Watch the video below.


Meanwhile, Charlotte radio station Channel 96.1 FM put together a great tribute to Steve yesterday, blending Aloe Blacc's "The Man" with audio clips from some of No. 89's game highlights and press soundbites. It's very fitting because Steve Smith is The Man; it's just that now he'll be the man for some other team.


This morning, Mr. Ice Up Son tweeted that he teared up from the tribute.


But don't think for a minute that Smitty is softening up. He's still one of the toughest, most fearless wide receivers to ever play the game, which we witnessed for 13 years on and off the field. And as he reminded us yesterday when he called into Charlotte's WFNZ "The Fan" 610 AM, and spoke about what the 2014 season will be like for him once he lands with a new team and if he ends up playing against the Panthers:

“They’re going to get the best, in-shape 35-year old guy that they can get. And if that happens to run through Bank of America Stadium, put your goggles on because there is going to be blood and guts everywhere.”

The. Man.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Today, OpenTable announced its list of the Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants in America for 2014. Two Charlotte restaurants made the coveted list: 5Church in Uptown and Baku in SouthPark. If you're plugged into the Charlotte dining scene then you likely know both of these places to be local hotspots as well as places out-of-towners are told they must visit. 5Church turns two years old in May and seems to continue to be as popular as it was during its first summer. And Baku has only been open for six months, but has become one of the go-to places in south Charlotte.


According to the press release from OpenTable: The Diners' Choice Awards for the Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants in America are generated from more than 5 million restaurant reviews collected from verified OpenTable diners between March 1, 2013, and February 28, 2014. All restaurants with a minimum number of qualifying reviews were included for consideration. Qualifying restaurants were then sorted according to a score calculated from each restaurant's average rating in the "hot spot" category along with a minimum "overall" rating.

5Church. Credit: Facebook

Baku. Credit: Facebook

It should be noted that these two Charlotte restaurants are the only restaurants in North Carolina to make the list. I brag all the time about how great Charlotte's dining scene has become (the nightlife scene, too). We have several top-notch restaurants that not only serve great food but also have the decor and ambiance (restaurateurs spend big bucks designing these places) that I would put up against just about any dining hot spot in NYC or L.A.


NFL free agency started this week, so that's why you're seeing several reports of pro football players being signed, re-signed, traded, or released. The Carolina Panthers rarely do anything exciting during free agency--sometimes they hand out big contracts to keep important players intact, but the team doesn't usually bring in a star during this period. And maybe they don't have to. But what they have to do right now is keep Steve Smith.

The Smiths. Credit: instagram.com/aceandsmitty

There are all these different media reports about Smitty's fate, and what could take place this week between him and the Panthers (just Google Steve Smith right now and read). The two most-predicted scenarios are that the team will either trade him or release him. I understand how professional sports work. The players are treated like family, but when they start to age and become less productive, they're reminded that pro sports, especially the NFL where contracts aren't guaranteed, is a business. We've seen countless players play their entire careers with one team, earning many accolades and breaking records along the way, only to be pushed out once they reach their mid-30s. Steve turns 35 in May.

There's a "Save Steve Smith," #SaveSmitty campaign underway on social media.
Credit: teespring.com/savestevesmith

But here's why the Steve Smith/Carolina Panthers situation is different. To put it plainly, the Panthers don't have the resume to get rid of Steve. As my grandma and 'em used to say, they're smelling themselves, meaning they think they're more than what they are. Now, allow me to elaborate.

The Panthers are a relatively young franchise--2014 will be the team's 20th season. During those first 19 years, the Panthers have never had back-to-back winning seasons. Their all-time regular season record is a losing one: 144-160.

For several years, Steve was one of the only bright spots on the team. He gave us reasons to watch, when he made spectacular catches, amassed huge yardage, celebrated in the end zone, and snatched cornerbacks up by the collars during countless scuffles.

And let's not forget the abysmal 2009 and 2010 seasons, between the end of Jake Delhomme's tenure as the Panthers' starting QB and before Cam Newton's. Steve stuck with the team, when he was in his prime and could've asked to be traded for the chance to play for a Super Bowl contender.

Steve's stats may have been down during the 2013 season, but he still led the team in catches and receiving yards.

He's played all 13 seasons of his NFL career so far with the Panthers. The way the league is now, with the over abundance of trading, the Panthers will likely never have another wide receiver play that long for them. So I think it's safe to say his team record of 836 receptions and 12,197 yards will never be surpassed, except by him if he is allowed to continue playing for the Panthers.

Steve is currently 19th on the NFL's all-time career receiving yards list. Only 600 yards separate him from the 15th spot held by Irving Fryar. So basically, if Steve plays in 2014, he should finish the season ranked 15th or 16th all-time--Andre Johnson, another active, top-notch receiver, is currently ranked two spots above him and would likely rise several more spots, therefore pushing everyone he surpasses down one. The Panthers will likely never have another top-15, or top-20 for that matter, all-time receiver again.

When his playing days are over, Steve will eventually make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, making him the first career-long Panthers player to do so. It would be so much sweeter on that fateful day if No. 89 is able to say he only wore black, white, and blue his entire NFL career.

I know many within the Panthers organization are looking ahead to the future and are excited about the possibilities. The team has a star quarterback in Cam Newton and a star linebacker in Luke Kuechly. Cam turns 25 years old in May and Luke turns 23 in April, so these two have the potential to be the dominant faces of the franchise for the next decade.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has been with the team three years and general manager Dave Gettleman one year. They're the two, especially the GM, who'll have the most say on what happens with Steve. Let's hope they realize how valuable he is to not only lifelong Panthers fans, but also future ones.



Monday, March 3, 2014

For the foreseeable future, Charlotte will continue to be home to the annual CIAA Tournament. Below is the excerpt of a press release I received via email at 3:10 p.m. today, corresponding with the 3 p.m. CIAA press conference held at Charlotte Convention Center.

CIAA and Charlotte stakeholders rejoice during today's announcement.
Photo by Jon Strayhorn/Media Arts Collective

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (March 3, 2014) – The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) and the City of Charlotte have agreed to exclusively negotiate a broadened partnership to include the Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament in Charlotte, N.C. The decision comes on the heels of the 69th Annual Men’s Tournament and 40th Annual Women’s Tournament, which was held Feb. 25 – March 1, 2014 and was the ninth subsequent year the event has been held in the Queen City.

The new agreement would commit the tournaments to be held in Charlotte for at least the next six years beginning in 2015. In turn, the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA) will provide various benefits, including $1.4 million in funding annually, proceeds from which will be distributed among the 12 conference colleges and universities. In addition, the CIAA will move its conference headquarters to Charlotte in the near future, with specific timing and location to be determined. The relocation will enable the conference, the CRVA and other Charlotte entities to more effectively partner in the community, providing increased visibility for the CIAA and helping to secure enhanced sponsorships benefitting the 12 member-institutions.

“We look forward to forging an even more enhanced, collaborative and positive partnership with the City of Charlotte,” says CIAA Commissioner Jacqie Carpenter. “It’s been a home that has truly embraced the tournament and we look forward to growing the momentum we’ve experienced in these last nine years with renewed vision and energy that will help to shape the next generation of this event.”

Last year, the tournament generated a substantial economic impact for the region with $29.86 million in direct spending and $47.17 million in economic impact. The study was conducted by the CRVA based on widely used best practices from leading economists and the hospitality and tourism industry. A 2014 study will begin soon and will be released upon completion.

“On the heels of such a tremendous tournament, this news couldn’t have come at a better time,” says Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon. “I still remember helping to recruit this event to the Queen City more than a decade ago as Mayor Pro Tem so being able to keep it here for six more years is a testament to the depth of our relationship with the CIAA. This economic generator, that attracts tens of thousands of visitors here and infuses millions of dollars into our local economy, will pay dividends for years to come.”

Touted as the third most attended basketball tournament among all NCAA divisions, the CIAA Tournament has become an integral event that the Charlotte community rallies around year after year. Most importantly, it has fostered an important legacy for the future through the funding it has provided in scholarships for the 12 member institutions, enabling students to attend CIAA schools. CIAA has consistently ranked as one of Charlotte’s largest events, only second behind the 2012 Democratic National Convention to date.

Well, this puts an end to the rampant speculation and curiosity as to where the 2015 CIAA Tournament (and the hundreds of parties that surround it) will be held (sorry, Atlanta). You can relive my coverage of 2014 CIAA Week by visiting CharlotteMagazine.com/CIAA.


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