Courtesy The Grand Baltimore

For the second time this year, North Carolina’s loss is Baltimore’s gain.

The Business History Conference, a group that had been planning to hold its annual meeting in 2018 in Charlotte, has decided to gather in Baltimore instead – even though it incurred a penalty of $21,750 for cancelling the initial meeting site.

The Baltimore meeting is expected to draw 350 people spending $120,000 for lodging, according to the group’s secretary-treasurer, Roger Horowitz.

In choosing Baltimore, the conference follows a decision made in April by the Community Transportation Association of America, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit. That group backed out of plans to hold its June 2018 meeting in Raleigh and opted for Baltimore instead.

Both groups are part of a growing roster of organizations that are boycotting North Carolina to protest House Bill 2, which has drawn criticism for discriminating against the transgender community, gays, bisexuals and lesbians.

The bill, passed earlier this year, took away certain rights and protections that had been extended to the LGBT community in North Carolina, including allowing transgender people to use the public bathroom of the sex with which they identify.

The Business History Conference’s decision came in response not only to the state’s adoption of House Bill 2, but also a recent rejection of a proposed repeal of the measure by state legislators, according to the organization’s website.

“Consultation with the BHC’s membership and leadership showed strong sentiment against the planned North Carolina location, as many would not or could not attend a conference in the state so long as the HB2 measure remained in effect,” the statement on the website read. “We simply cannot meet in a state that sanctions discrimination against LGBT individuals – a group that includes some of our own members.”

Instead of meeting in Charlotte in April 2018, the Business History Conference will now meet at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor from April 5-7, 2018. The site includes the historic Masonic Temple at 225 N. Charles Street, a Beaux Arts landmark that has been restored as a meeting venue and renamed The Grand.

Horowitz, who is based in Delaware, said the Masonic Temple and the size and location of the hotel were key factors in the decision to come to Baltimore.

“I think The Grand was pivotal in our decision,” he said. “The proximity to the Inner Harbor and the museum area was very important…It’s a terrific setup that they have. For small conferences like ours, it’s really perfect.”

Founded in 1954, the Business History Conference has 400 members and describes itself as “the largest professional organization of business historians in the United States.” Its members study the history of businesses and work to help others understand the ways they operate.

The group had put down a deposit of $21,750 to stay at a hotel in Charlotte and stands to lose that money as a result of the move to Baltimore. The group has indicated it will meet in Charlotte in 2020 if the law is repealed by then, and the hotel has indicated it will apply the deposit for that meeting, Horowitz said.

The first group that cancelled in North Carolina, the Community Transportation Association, is a national organization that works to remove barriers to accessible transportation and improve mobility for those who rely on public transit.

Its weeklong meeting is expected to bring 1,000 people to Baltimore who will book more than 2,500 “room nights” and spend an estimated $1.7 million.

Performers such as Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Bryan Adams, Pearl Jam and Cirque du Soleil have cancelled performances in North Carolina as a result of the new law, and companies such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank have cancelled plans to expand in the state.

Former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake banned non-essential government employee travel to North Carolina in response to the state’s law. Mayor Catherine Pugh is keeping the ban in effect, according to spokesman Anthony McCarthy.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.