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Q and A with Russ Ford

by Ty Shaffer

February 27,2011

Russ Ford gives free walking tours of Uptown Charlotte. He retired from a career in radio and television news, and now is a volunteer with Visit Charlotte, which is part of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. The tours, which begin at the Visitors Center and last between 90 minutes and two hours, give visitors a look at the many offerings of the Charlotte Center City. He is available for tours every Friday, rain or shine, and at other times by special arrangement. 

How did you come to Charlotte?

Well, my family is from here. I was born over in Stanly County, but I moved into the city in 1965, and I’ve lived here ever since. I worked for Jefferson-Pilot Communications, the folks who owned, at that time, WBT [radio] and [WBTV] Channel 3 TV. I started as a news reporter, and soon became news director. After that I moved into corporate and public affairs where my main job was writing the editorials that Doug Mayes did on Channel 3 TV. Some may remember Doug Mayes. He’s still around.

When did you start giving walking tours of Uptown?

About ten years ago. I’ve been here at the Visitors Center since 1996, but I phased into doing the tours around 2000.

What made you decide that this was something you wanted to do with your time?

Well, I’ve always been what the newspaper likes to call a “civic booster.” I just really love Charlotte. It’s my hometown. I’m proud of it. I want people who come here to have a good impression of the city, to have a good experience while they’re here. So, this is just my small contribution to try to make that happen, so [that] they’ll go home and tell more people to come [to Charlotte].

About how many people take the tour in a given month?

I would say about 75. Surprisingly, we’re just about as busy in the winter as we are in the summer.

How did you decide what to include on the tour?

There are many things in the Center City everybody seems to know about, and want to know more about. Like the Levine Center for the Arts – it was not there when I started, but now it’s part of the tour. The statues down at the square, the frescoes in Bank of America [Corporate Center]. People know about those, and they always want to see those things.

A number of stops on the tour emphasize the arts in Charlotte. Can you say a bit about the effect the arts have had on Center City during the time you’ve been doing these tours?

I think it’s been a tremendous asset for the downtown area. In fact, I’m surprised. I’ve never been an “artsy” kind of person myself, but I really like the museums that are here. And I have been really impressed at how many people do come [to Charlotte] and want to see the museums.

Do you find that the tours are mostly made up of people who are visiting, or residents who want to learn more about Uptown?

Probably about half and half. Many of the visitors who come are actually brought here by people who live in Charlotte that they’re visiting. So, they bring them in to do [a walking tour].

What do people on the tours seem to enjoy the most?

Things I get the most comments about are The Green, all of the artwork on The Green. People really seem to enjoy that.

How about you? What is your favorite part of Uptown?

I like The Green, and I like the statues [at Trade and Tryon]. I’ve always been interested in the background of the statues, and it gives me a chance to tell a little bit about Charlotte history when I’m explaining the statues. In fact, I’ve been involved with a project to put a plaque at the statues to explain what they’re all about. It’s being produced right now, and whenever the city gets it, depending on their timetable and the weather, it will be installed.

Are there things about Charlotte’s history that you’ve learned since you began giving these tours?

Well, a lot of the history I already knew. One of my ancestors was John Ford, who signed the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, and that’s really how I got into it. I was researching family history and decided I would like to share it with folks.

Do you have any plans to expand the tour, or any new things you would like to add?

I probably will not expand it. But it changes all the time. I used to include Fourth Ward as a standard part of the tour, but then we started spending more time down at the Levine Center, and the tour was getting so long that I’ve made Fourth Ward optional.

Are you optimistic about the future of tourism here in the Center City?

Oh yes, I think so. It’s growing all the time. I’m sure it’s been impacted somewhat by the economy, but I think that will come back. And in fact I think it has held up pretty well, considering all that has gone on.

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