CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Much was made about Charlotte emerging on the big stage when Democrats awarded their 2012 national convention to the city last year. But the tidy city of gleaming skyscrapers built with money during the flush years of banking is more in its middle age, trying to reinvent itself without cutting all the ties to its big cash past.

Charlotte is certainly New South, traditionally progressive on civil rights and a place where religion and government and business can all mingle without stepping on each other's toes. It's a place where Republicans backed mass transit — a light rail line runs through downtown — and Democrats assured banking barons encountered no obstacles to making the city the second-biggest banking center in the nation.

But Charlotte isn't a utopia. One in six residents lives below the poverty level. Its unemployment rate is one of the highest among the 50 biggest cities in the U.S. as those banks shed thousands of high-paying jobs. The per-capita income of the city hasn't recovered from its high of just more than $40,000 before the Great Recession.

Even with those problems, Charlotte is still a city that Democrats would love to show off in a state that gave a surprising win to President Barack Obama in 2008. And Charlotte wants to take the chance to show itself off, too, as a place where some of the ideals cherished in America can work.

"These folks down here wanted to do big things and were willing to take risks," said Richard Vinroot, who was the Republican mayor of Charlotte from 1991 to 1995.