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Aviation director says authority transition would be smooth

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  • Carlee: House airport bill will put CLT into 'chaos'
  • Archive: Coverage of the airport battle
  • Airport bill advances after 'impasse' with city leaders
  • Construction update

    Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of construction projects are underway at the airport, grinding along in spite of a rainy spring that left construction sites pits of red mud, aviation director Jerry Orr said Thursday.

    A new hourly parking deck in front of the terminal is a little more than a year away from completion, Orr said. The $120-million, seven-story parking deck will have 4,000 parking spaces and house the airport’s rental car facility. The airport recently finished tearing down the remaining half of the old hourly parking deck.

    On Thursday, the Airport Advisory Committee voted to recommended City Council approve $37.2 million to construct a second airport business valet parking deck. Orr said the current business valet deck, off Wilkinson Boulevard, is frequently full. A second business valet deck, next to the first, will take about a year to build and provide 3,000 more spaces, Orr said.

    And the committee voted in favor of appropriating $234,563 to grade and pave a 70-acre site on Wilkinson. The site, which was formerly the Morris Park neighborhood before the homes were bought by the airport, will be used for overflow rental car parking and maintenance facilities.

    In the meantime, to help with the airport’s current “parking disaster,” Orr said Charlotte Douglas has hired 17 more shuttle bus drivers and bought nine more busses to ferry passengers from the parking lots to the terminal. The airport is also converting the current employee lots to public lots, adding 3,000 more spaces, and moving employees to a temporary lot.

    Orr also said plans to purchase a 370-acre, 100-home neighborhood south of the airport are moving forward. The airport plans to spend $35 million on the land, most of which will be eligible for federal reimbursement. Orr has said the homes will be razed and the land could be used for warehouses to support the airport’s new intermodal rail yard.

    About 65 percent of homeowners have indicated so far that they’re interested in selling to the airport, Orr said. “Ultimately, we would have the right of eminent domain,” Orr said. “We don’t intend to pursue that right in the short term. For the time being, it will be voluntary on the part of the homeowners.” Ely Portillo



Charlotte aviation director Jerry Orr said Thursday that transitioning to an independent authority from city control would be a smooth process, contradicting the city manager’s warning on Wednesday that the airport could be headed for “chaos.”

Orr also said he has spoken “in general terms” with some of the bill’s supporters, including State Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. Bill Brawley, about the latest version of the proposed legislation.

The proposal to create an independent, regional authority to run the Charlotte Douglas International Airport was approved by a committee in the state House this week. It could be headed to the floor for final approval later this month, and would become law without a signature from the governor, since it is a “local bill.”

The latest draft of the bill, released Tuesday, would create an 11-member authority to own and operate the airport. Only two members would be from Charlotte. All of the airport’s property would immediately transfer to the authority. Previous versions of the bill had a 90-day transition period built in to transfer ownership and operations to the authority.

Charlotte city manager Ron Carlee – who is Orr’s boss – said Wednesday that the new bill could disrupt airport contracts and raise questions about millions of dollars of airport bonds, since it doesn’t include any time to transition. The airport is “really in jeopardy,” Carlee said.

But after Thursday’s meeting of the Airport Advisory Committee, Orr downplayed Carlee’s concerns.

“Should the bill pass, it will be a smooth transition,” said Orr, who has been aviation director since 1989. “It has to be.”

He said much will remain the same, with the same workforce at the airport after an authority. “The same 20,000 people will show up the day after” a bill passes, Orr said.

One group of employees that could see changes under an authority is the airport police officers. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police assumed control of the airport police last year, a move that Orr opposed and called a “debacle” in one internal email.

Under the proposed legislation, the authority would have the power to hire its own police force. Orr declined to say Thursday whether Charlotte Douglas would stick with CMPD or hire its own police officers, as it had for years before.

“That would be a decision for the board,” Orr said. The current Airport Advisory Committee would serve as the authority’s board until a new authority board is appointed.

In February, when the authority bill was first introduced, Orr was directed by interim city manager Julie Birch not to lobby for an authority. But he broke his silence in April, publicly saying that the airport should be run by an authority.

Sate Sen. Malcolm Graham called for Orr to be fired for insubordination after his remarks. But the latest version of the airport authority bill appears to erase any doubt about who would run the airport: It specifies that the aviation director on Feb. 14, Orr, would be hired immediately on passage of the bill to be airport director.

Asked on Thursday whether he still supported an airport authority after reading the latest version of the proposed bill, Orr responded with one of his characteristic quips: “I am often wrong, but never in doubt.”

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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