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Charlotte's Ballantyne Resort, with a Helipad, a $300 Signature Drink and
 Commanding Exterior Presence May Send Message to Locals to Pass it By
By Celeste Smith, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 16, 2007 - It's got a helipad, a $300 "Ballantini" signature drink, and a presidential package going for $2,750 a night.

Still, it surprises general manager Steven Kalczynski that more folks aren't choosing Ballantyne Resort as simply a place to hang out.

"I can't believe the people I meet that just drive by and don't stop in," Kalczynski said. "We've done a lot in the last couple of years to get people to come in."

Like: Friday night events with entrees as low as $8. A newly renovated restaurant with a laid-back steakhouse feel. For the holidays, a free gingerbread house display.

And, a proximity that can't be beat for Ballantyne-area residents looking for a place to hang out without worrying about a long drive home.

"We're here, where are you?" Mary Kay Pliler, 75, says into her cell phone while at the resort during a recent Friday "Havana Nights" outing. While a live guitarist played in the bar area, Pliler was seated at a table in the great room outside the bar with friend Denise Earls, 72, and Earls' children, Lynn Slobusky, 43, and Sam Slobusky, 45.

Since all but Sam live minutes away in a nearby neighborhood, "My mom and Mary Kay come together, and I don't worry about them," Lynn Slobusky said.

"I can't eat this spicy stuff," said Pliler, "but I can still come and have a relaxing time."

"And," added Lynn, who doesn't like to be out late, "still be home and in bed by 8:30."

Still, those who run this four-diamond hotel, spa and golf venue -- which the developer's biography of Ballantyne admits "gives the impression of a Southern plantation on steroids" -- know their bread and butter. The resort is still trying to be exclusive, Kalczynski said, catering to the upper market. The typical overnight guest is 38 to 45, making a couple hundred thousand dollars a year.

"We're not necessarily looking for everyone," he said. "We're not competing with the Fox and Hounds and the other places. We're very sensitive to that."

The place to be...but for whom?

With its alabaster facade, 18-hole golf course, and a separate 35-room rustic retreat on the grounds called The Lodge, Kalczynski calls the resort "The Central Park of Ballantyne."It's a commanding presence that sends a distinct message to some passers-by: This is not the place for me.

"People don't realize they have the ability to stop there," said Terri DeBoo, a past chair of the Ballantyne Chamber, which used to meet at the resort until she said the venue got too busy to host them every month. "It doesn't have street access, it doesn't have the name of the restaurant outside."

While "everyone knows it exists" and goes there for events, DeBoo said, "they don't think of it as an off-event or an off-work place to go to." She's a regular for spa treatments and brunches.

Inside, the Gallery restaurant added cheeseburgers and house-made hotdogs to make it and the bar feel more folksy. Casual, free events, such as meetings of the Ballantyne Breakfast Club, offer an excuse to get a peek inside. Santa recently hosted kids for pictures. Rooms can go as low as $179 a night. A round of golf can go for $50.

Overnight stays and reserved events still make up the bulk of business. The resort averages about one wedding a weekend, and will host nearly 1,700 events this year -- from corporate and association meetings, to holiday and social parties, to bar and bat mitzvahs. About 500 people came for this year's Easter brunch; about 700 for Thanksgiving dinner.

Being discussed for 2008 or shortly after: another hotel, a wedding chapel, and an outdoor pool for guests with cabanas and cooking facilities.

'Place to meet and greet'

While spa regulars know to use the entrance off the parking lot instead of walking into the resort, Gallery restaurant visitors may not know about the shortcut entrance on the Ballantyne Commons Parkway side. An entrance sign is in the works.

Still, resort leaders try to draw the uninitiated in by hosting groups like Ballantyne After Dark, an informal social network of people who live, work, or have an interest in the area. A recent attendee was Stacy Donnelly, 36, owner of the new Emerson Joseph men's salon at Ballantyne Village.

Donnelly said she was more accustomed to being at the resort for business training meetings, and not for socializing. "For me it does feel slightly removed, because my universe is uptown," near where she lives. But with events like these, she's changing her mind: "It's a good place to meet and greet."

"Once you're here," Kalczynski said, "you come back."

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To see more of The Charlotte Observer, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.charlotte.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

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