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Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon heads to Washington

By Franco Ordoñez
McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon is in Washington to rub shoulders with other mayors and turn up the heat on Congress for money to build a new Charlotte airport tower.

The city’s new chief executive joined more than 200 city leaders at the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting.

He’s using the opportunity to press the North Carolina congressional delegation for help finding $40 million to quickly replace the city’s more than 30-year-old tower.

“What we have today is obsolete,” he said. “We need something better.”

The airport tower is at the top of the city’s 2014 federal legislative agenda. The Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to fund the 370-foot tower, but it’s not slated to open until 2019.

Cannon said the tower is needed by 2017 and recruited U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte and other members to pressure the FAA to provide the money sooner or accept an alternative funding.

The arrangement, proposed by Pittenger, a Republican, and other members of the North Carolina delegation, would allow Charlotte to pay to build the tower but then sell it back to the FAA in 2019.

The current tower is just 160 feet tall and limits the ability of air traffic controllers to see planes on the runway.

It was built in 1979 when there were 224,300 planes flying in and out of the airport in a year. Charlotte Douglas International Airport is now the sixth-busiest in the country. More than 530,000 planes fly in and out annually, and that number is forecast to grow to nearly 1 million by 2030.

Regardless of whether the tower is financed using FAA funding or the proposed alternative funding, the city’s goal remains to get the tower commissioned by 2017.

This is Cannon’s second trip to Washington since taking over as mayor last month. He also will meet with President Barack Obama and members of his Cabinet. Cannon said he plans to continue his conversation from last month, talking about jobs, requesting assistance for improving the city’s manufacturing base and acquiring federal grants to help expand transportation services.

Cannon said he also hopes to have the opportunity to say hello to his predecessor, Anthony Foxx, who is now the U.S. secretary of transportation.

At the mayors’ conference, Cannon plans to pick the brains of the Miami and San Francisco mayors for ideas on how Charlotte can become a better distribution hub. He also spoke at the opening luncheon, talking about Charlotte’s transit system and how to make the city a global distribution hub.

Mesa, Ariz., Mayor Scott Smith, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said in an interview that one of the best things Cannon can do to be successful is to stay involved and take advantage of the experiences of other mayors.

“I don’t care whether you’re talking about trash pickup or economic development,” Smith said. “Other mayors around this country have confronted the same challenges or have come up with ideas and programs that have created opportunities.”

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