By a three-to-one margin, Charlotte voters want the city to keep control over Charlotte Douglas International Airport, a new Observer poll has found.
The poll of 601 registered voters, conducted for the newspaper by SurveyUSA, also showed that voters by a two-to-one margin oppose spending tax dollars to help the Carolina Panthers renovate their football stadium.
The Observer commissioned the poll in preparation for a May 21 forum featuring Gov. Pat McCrory, Mayor Anthony Foxx and all other living past mayors of Charlotte: Eddie Knox, Harvey Gantt, Sue Myrick and Richard Vinroot.
Foxx has said he wont run again and has been nominated as the next U.S. secretary of transportation. As Charlotte begins preparing to elect his successor, the mayors will discuss the challenges facing the city and their hopes for its future.
Sixty-five percent of respondents in the poll, conducted May 1-6, said the city should maintain control of the airport. Nineteen percent favored a proposal to turn it over to an independent authority. Sixteen percent werent sure.
It seems its been operated very effectively from the beginning by the city of Charlotte, respondent Roy Alexander, 70, said of the airport. I have not heard any reason why it should be changed.
Gregory Davis, 62, expressed similar thoughts.
I think this should be a local issue that we should be in control of, he said.
Another respondent, Velvet Key, 51, a US Airways flight attendant, questioned the motives of state lawmakers who have been pushing for the change.
Its about a power grab by the state, she said. I think theres money involved. Theres something to be gained. ... I dont see them clamoring to take over Concords airport.
Charlotte officials have been fighting legislation that would give control of the airport to a 13-member authority, with two members appointed by the city of Charlotte. Five surrounding counties would each get an appointment.
City officials have said they see no reason why an airport widely praised as one of the nations best-run should be taken away from city control.
Authority backers call the airport a key economic engine for the region and say an authority would let it function more like a business and insulate it from city politics.
A consultant hired by the city to study the authority question concluded Charlotte Douglas is one of the best-run, lowest-cost airports in the nation but said an authority would be more effective.
The bill creating an authority has passed the N.C. Senate and awaits action in the House.
City and Charlotte Chamber officials traveled to Raleigh on Wednesday to ask lawmakers to take a more cautious and collaborative approach to creating any authority.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican from Cornelius, told them the bill could still be changed and suggested Charlotte should have greater representation on an authority.
Few fans of stadium taxes
On the question of whether the Panthers should get taxpayers help in renovating Bank of America Stadium, 64 percent voiced opposition, while 30 percent were in support. Six percent werent sure.
The Charlotte City Council has agreed to give the Panthers $87.5 million for stadium renovations in exchange for a six-year commitment to stay in Charlotte.
Owner Jerry Richardsons will calls for the team to be sold within two years of his death. Some officials have expressed fears the next owner might move the team, blemishing the citys image nationally.
Most poll respondents voiced little sympathy for helping the Panthers with public money.
Im definitely against that, said Jean Howard, an 84-year-old retiree. The Panthers make a doggone good amount of money for what they do. ... I think its wrong to tax the people who are working hard to live.
Key, the flight attendant, added: They should be treated like any other business.
But others disagreed. Davis, a retired professor of African-American studies at UNC Charlotte, cited the Panthers as one of several local assets that boosted the citys profile nationally, putting Charlotte in position to land last years Democratic National Convention.
The Carolina Panthers are a state team, he said. The Panthers have fans in Wilmington, Fayetteville, Raleigh. Anything that would continue to enhance the public understanding and image of Charlotte, we have to do what we can to support that.
Frazier: 704-358-5145; @ericfraz on Twitter
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