Southern Comfort

Southern Comfort

A progressive environment with an impressive financial base attracted Detroit native Claude McDougal, 48, to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1992. McDougal, CEO of U.S. Financial Alliance Consultants (, a wealth management firm, also noticed a plethora of churches in the city where World Golf Hall of Famer Charles Sifford and artist Romare Bearden are among the celebrated sons.

But within earshot of most every chapel bell in this Bible belt town are signs of a fervent financial network. With assets under management of $2 trillion, Charlotte (one of be’s 10 Best Cities for African American) is the second largest U.S. banking center — behind New York. “Many industries [like] Charlotte because of the banking relationships they’re able to establish,” says McDougal, adding that Wachovia and Bank of America employ more than 33,000. Duke Energy, Goodrich Corp., Wachovia, Lowe’s, SPX (electronics), Nucor (metals), and Bank of America — with $117 billion in revenues — are among nine major corporations headquartered there.

McDougal, a board member of the Charlotte–Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce, says Mecklenburg County, with a population of 630,000, is fertile ground for African American businesses. The hospitality industry generates $3 billion annually and employs 80,000. Healthcare, pharmaceuticals, insurance, and automotive — because of the presence of NASCAR teams and a forthcoming NASCAR Hall of Fame site — are other significant area industries. In 2008, Charlotte will host the Black Enterprise Entrepreneur’s Conference + Expo, hosted by General Motors. Financing for condo development uptown, the Peninsula waterfront and golf community in Northlake, and $500,000 homes near Lake Norman point to the booming real estate market.

For a break from finance and figures, McDougal plays a little golf, frequents jazz clubs, and visits the Afro-American Cultural Center (; he finds midweek rejuvenation at the Oasis Day Spa ( Folks flock to NoDa, the vibrant arts district with pulsating pubs, cozy cafes, and art shops, every first and third Friday for an arts walk. Check out www.visit for more ideas and city insight.

The mantled fireplaces and marble accents in The Dunhill Hotel (237 N. Tryon St., 800-354-4141, evoke “the Winston Churchill era,” says McDougal of this architectural beauty with an Historic Hotel of America designation. The penthouse suite fetches $875 per night and overlooks a theater and convention facilities.

The Ballantyne Resort (10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway, 866-248-4824, is a sanctuary of elegance. Amenities include a spa offering more than 60 treatments and a par 71, 18-hole championship course that embraces the Lodge, a 35-room retreat facility for executive and social gatherings.

Set atop Charlotte Plaza, Bentley’s on 27 (201 S. College St., 704-343-9201, specializes in classic French dining: Holland Dover Sole and Chateaubriand Bouquetiere are served with the most spectacular sunset vista in the city. The gueridon service (French tableside cooking) adds theater and excitement to the dining experience.

Bonterra Dining & Wine Room (1829 Cleveland Ave., 704-333-9463, is known to crank it up a notch, says McDougal. The arched glass windows that elevate the space once gazed down on pews when this airy wine