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Who is going to be Charlotte's Billionaire Benefactor?


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We all know about the major industries that grew up in various older cities, each with an associated billionaire that paid for considerable fun stuff for the city. At the turn of last century, we might have had a billionaire benefactor of our own in Charlotte in Mr. J.B. Duke, but he ended up living much of his rich life in New Jersey, and giving much of his wealth back to his family's original hometown, Durham and for Trinity College to rename itself in his honor. We did get some stuff out of Duke, in that we benefitted mightily from Duke Power's power generation, but beyond that we didn't get much of the philanthropy.

We all know of the Reynolds in Winston, the Lillys in Indianapolis, the Carnegies in Pittsburgh, the Rockefellers in New York, and so on, each giving back to their cities very generously. In the modern era, you can think of what Ted Turner has done for Atlanta and Bill Gates has done for Seattle. Granted, nowadays, billionaires tend to be more global or national in their philanthropy, but no doubt they also provide great things for their cities.

I have long regretted for Charlotte that we haven't really had a billionaire here that might just suddenly show up with millions to help solve a crisis here or there for the city. We have had corporate benevolence in the banks, but now that the city has grown up, the banks have less of a need to do that to help get employee candidates to relocate here.

I sort of realized recently that our big industry is banking, and the people who made their fortunes on them are still alive! We might be a generation away from having a billionaires estate that creates wonderful things for this city.

Although he isn't a billionaire, we all sort of expect that Hugh McColl, with all he has done for the city already, will have an estate eventually that will do wonders for this city.

The one person that has escaped my notice until today is Mr. C.D Spangler. He made his wealth from saving his family's bank and eventually merging it with a predecessor to Bank of America. His fortune is estimated at 2.2 billion and his hometown is none other than Charlotte! Now, his alma mater is in Chapel Hill, where he spent a decade or so as the university's president, so he might give a large sum to that institution. But we see in today's news that he is donating $4m to help fund teachers in Charlotte's neediest schools.


Is he the billionaire in the wings whose estate ends up bestowing all sorts of wonderful things on the city? Are there others I am not thinking of at the moment that could help create uniqueness and beauty in this city in ways that only the whims of billionaires can do?

What types of things have been done in other cities by rich benefactors that we can dream of happening here?

A few of mine would be to either create a massive windfall for UNCC or create a major private university here that can near-instantly create a major university competitive with other tier 1 schools. This is unlikely with Spangler as he has clearly been in support of his alma mater in Chapel Hill. I could imagine a major museum with art holdings.

We are also lucky to have David Murdock feeling guilty of some questionable business decisions in the 80s in Kannapolis. He seems to be trying to spend a lot of his fortune there to help right some of those wrongs. We also have Bruton Smith in the Charlotte area, but with his antics lately, I'm not sure how much philanthropy and kindness we can expect from him.

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It should be noted that Duke and his family made their fortune not through the power company but by selling tobacco and cigarettes and the family was from Durham which is why most of the philanthropy ended up there. Their American Tobacco company once had a monopoly on the very addictive and destructive tobacco based products and eventually the government broke them up. The resulting companies became the NC tobacco companies that most of us are familiar with.

However the main industry in the Charlote area for much of the 100 years after the Civil War was textiles. Charlotte was surrounded and included hundreds of mills and the city grew up during this period as the administrative, financial and distribution center for these businesses. There were families that made a lot of money during this period but for the most part, this money has long disappeared from the area as these places were eventually bought out by the corporations. Some better known ones were the Cannon family in Concord (Cannon Mills) and the Spring/ Close family in Fort Mill. (Springmaid Mills) Stowes in Gastonia. Some of the very well off descendants of these families are still around.

I am going to say the most noteworthy bit of philanthropy from the textile industry for the area (though not in Charlotte) was the donation of thousands of acres of parkland by the Close family in Fort Mill, and then Daniel J. Stowe Botanical Garden in Gaston county. Both are very nice places to visit.

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I think that once C.D. passes on-a very long time from now, I hope-you'll see the entire UNC system benefit from his billions. His recent gift to support faculty salaries was not only for Carolina, though the majority of it was there. He loves Charlotte as much as Chapel Hill and I think he would leave behind a major gift to UNCC.

I feel certain Hugh McColl will leave behind a wonderful gift for Charlotte. Not that he hasn't done something already wonderful with the Bank of America, but I bet he still has a few legacies up his sleeve. I hear that he asks people he meets, "what have you done for Charlotte?" Look for gifts to his alma mater UNC Chapel Hill as well as gifts to UNCC. May the gifts be delayed a long time due to his abundant good health and life here in the Queen City. :)

John Belk created the Belk Scholars program at Davidson. Davidson is a highly regarded liberal arts school. We make too little of it. Also, Belk's estate is not yet really settled, if I'm not mistaken. We may hear something from that.

The common thread through all of this is a love of education. I think it's much more likely that's how we would see these estates bestow money, rather than to a museum.

Who knows what Bruton will do with his money. I admire him for being very much a self-made man but I don't know what he favors philanthropically-not sure that there is anything. Same with Felix Sabates.

The Levines have already made their mark with CMC and the Museum of the New South. The Blumenthals with the arts center. Murdock's Biotech Center is transformative for our region.

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I was saying that the only real benefit this city got from being associated with James B Duke was a power company, but otherwise the city didn't get much from his wealth (you are correct that it was derived original from American Tobacco and subsequently through power generation).

I am hoping for more here than a few small museums and hospital wings. That is the difference between a few millionaires in a city and a billionaire. Billionaires can do tremendous things, especially if through an estate that grows with time, with grants doled out over a generation.

If you go around Winston, not only do you see very obvious improvements from the Reynold's family, but you also can see Z Smith Reynolds Foundation as top billing for donating to almost anything you go to. How great would it be to have a city where we can get things done as we need because a foundation with more than $1,000,000,000 in principal is there waiting to sign grants for the interest to anything benefiting the city. We are not used to that kind of large scale philanthropy in this city.

What if we want to do a $20m gold mine museum and $10m is granted by the _____ Foundation. Suppose we get to a stage where Charlotte can get a medical school, and 1/2 of the cost is granted by the ______ Foundation. Suppose we want to double the size of Discovery Place and 1/2 the cost is granted by the ______ Foundation. Suppose we want a planetarium or a natural history museum or new dentistry school or an aquarium or a whatever. If we have a billion dollar foundation just waiting to grant out to worthy causes, suddenly we are city that comes up with and makes worthy causes happen. I think our lack of such a source for large scale philanthropy has caused us to seek funds mostly from corporate and government sources when worthy causes came up.

Bechtler wanted to donate art but needed others to pay for a $20m museum space, the funding had to come from a complex public-private partnership. That is the type of project that cities with major philanthropy simply have funded from private donations, because a lionshare it picked up by major foundations. How many projects does the Lilly Endowment step in to fund in Indy?

It is that type of wide scale support for the community and our social institutions that I hope can come through one of our local billionaires or near-billionaires that are in their senior years now. Older cities have benefited from them from past generations. I am simply hoping that we can benefit from them in this generation given that we grew up so quickly.

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Could it be Spangler? The O had an article either yesterday or today about him giving CMS $4million to hire teachers for schools in need. They also profiled him for a few things he has done in the past other than donating money -- it seems during the desegregation of schools he put his kids in public schools to show support for them and also ran for School Board.

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Charlotte routinely ranks near the top of the most charitable giving cities. I don't think we lack wealthy families that give back to the community here. Maybe too much is given in all different directions so it's hard to focus. I think The Foundation for Carolinas is working as a clearinghouse to centralize donations.

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Slightly OT, but concerning local philanthropy: CMS is trying to build a system by which alumni would be routinely asked for donations to help the 11 oldest high schools in the county. The goal is to have a system similar to what private schools and public universities have done for many decades via alumni associations, but which public secondary schools haven't really attempted in the past. All of this comes on the heels of a very successful fundraising campaign at East Meck which drew in $500,000 in a single year to match a donation by alum Bob Silver. I taught at East during this period and I can say without reservation that it had a major effect on teacher morale and the quality of materials and training.

The O reported today that part of CMS' efforts involved using a third-party firm to construct an alumni directory, with portions of the proceeds potentially going to the schools. Some alumni were angered when they were unexpectedly contacted by an unknown entity on behalf of the school system, and understandably suspected fraud. This is the kind of thing that professional fundraisers would easily have avoided, and IMO it would be well worth $60k a year or so to bring in someone with heavy-duty fundraising experience to head up this effort in the future. The salary would be almost immediately justified by the returns (which is why successful universities usually have a very extensive development staff).

This is the kind of effort that can, without warning, produce huge returns. Bob Silver was never approached by any CMS representative before volunteering to make his million-dollar contribution, and it is very likely that other benefactors are out there simply waiting to be asked. This is a very positive step by CMS, botched execution notwithstanding.

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