Mayor-elect Patrick Cannon outlined his vision for Charlotte on Thursday, saying he would focus on job creation, streamlining the zoning and permitting process for businesses, and making the city a “logistical hub.”
Cannon, a Democrat, defeated Republican Edwin Peacock on Tuesday with 53 percent of the vote. He will be sworn in as mayor Dec. 2, and will have a 9-2 Democratic majority on the City Council.
At a news conference at Romare Bearden Park uptown, Cannon said he would focus on “job creation for all skill levels, from headquarters relocation to blue collar.”
The city of Charlotte has been aggressive in offering incentives to land companies such as Chiquita Brands International and the aerospace division for United Technologies Corp. The City Council recently changed its rules for such grants, giving city staff more flexibility to use incentives for manufacturing jobs.
Cannon was asked whether he would seek additional changes to the city’s incentives program, which usually falls under a program called Business Investment Grants.
He said he will send the issue to the council’s economic development committee to see whether the BIG program needs to be revamped or expanded.
“There is a place for it,” Cannon said. “But we have to make sure it’s performing business-wise.”
As a council member, Cannon generally supported giving businesses tax breaks to relocate or expand in Charlotte.
Cannon also said he wanted to streamline the permitting process for businesses, which can require separate trips to city and county offices. He said he has spoken with City Manager Ron Carlee and interim County Manager Bobbie Shields to “tackle the permitting issues.”
“We have a reputation for being challenging,” Cannon said.
His third main point was to continue what he called “logistics growth.”
The city hopes to leverage growth at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, along with the Norfolk-Southern intermodal railyard that’s under construction at the airport. The idea is for the city to become a distribution hub for products being imported and exported from East Coast ports, such as Charleston, Savannah, Ga., and Wilmington.
He said the widening of the Panama Canal, which will allow larger cargo ships to reach the East Coast from Asia, means the city “needs to be ready.”
Cannon spoke at Romare Bearden Park, a county-run facility that opened this summer as uptown’s newest park. He praised the park, along with a new baseball stadium under construction for the Charlotte Knights as signs of progress for the city.
Cannon was asked about the struggle to control Charlotte Douglas between the city and a newly created 13-member Airport Commission. The city is currently running the airport.
The commission had its first meeting Thursday night.
Former city Aviation Director Jerry Orr, who leads the commission, is still being paid by the city. It’s possible the new commission could change or cut his pay while the commission remains on the sidelines, unable to run the airport until the Federal Aviation Administration gives it an operating certificate.
It’s unclear whether the FAA will do that.
Cannon deferred any questions about Orr’s pay to the commission.
“I don’t want to micromanage the commission that has been put in place,” Cannon said.
Cannon was also asked about the commission’s legal bills. Orr hired former Mayor Richard Vinroot to represent the commission, which has no money.
Cannon declined to say what he would do if the city were allowed to keep the airport and the commission asked the city to pay Orr’s legal bills.
The City Council this year approved a deal to give the Carolina Panthers $87.5 million for stadium improvements in exchange for a six-year commitment to stay in Charlotte. That deal, however, allows for the city to reopen talks with the team for a longer “tether” if it brings $50 million in additional funds before fall 2015.
During the first round of negotiations with the Panthers this year, Cannon did not vote with other council members because his parking lot management company, E-Z Parking, has a contract with the team.
Cannon said he would likely recuse himself again. He didn’t think that would be a problem for the city or the team.
He cited how former Mayor Anthony Foxx would recuse himself from discussions about bus purchases when he was an attorney for the Charlotte company DesignLine, which made hybrid buses.
Cannon was asked whether he had heard from Foxx since his win.
“I think I missed his call,” Cannon said, before adding, “I hope to hear from him soon.”
Despite being members of the same party, Cannon and Foxx were sometimes rivals in the last two years of Foxx’s term.
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