Business

Here’s why developer Johnny Harris insists Charlotte needs high-speed rail to Atlanta

Johnny Harris speaks in his office in South Park this month. On Tuesday, the Charlotte developer was awarded the Charlotte Chamber’s Citizen of the Carolinas award, the organization’s highest honor.
Johnny Harris speaks in his office in South Park this month. On Tuesday, the Charlotte developer was awarded the Charlotte Chamber’s Citizen of the Carolinas award, the organization’s highest honor. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte developer Johnny Harris this week called for a high-speed rail system to be built between Charlotte and Atlanta, a project he said would bring “massive” economic benefits to the Carolinas.

Harris urged business leaders attending the Charlotte Chamber’s annual meeting Tuesday to find a way to build such an “express-rail” service. Harris, CEO of Lincoln Harris, made the suggestion as part of his acceptance speech for the chamber’s Citizen of the Carolinas award, the organization’s highest honor.

“It’s too long to drive and too short to fly,” said Harris, who added that such a project would be “a massive economic driver centered on the East Coast of this great country.”

He said the project could be funded primarily by the private sector, citing Florida’s Brightline – a high-speed rail service that when completed will connect Miami to Orlando. The first phase of that project, from Miami to West Palm Beach, is expected to begin operating this year.

“It is an unbelievable opportunity,” Harris said. “No other geographic area of this country meets the same criteria as Charlotte to Atlanta does.”

In announcing Harris as winner of the award, chamber President Bob Morgan described him as having passion for his hometown that is “evident in everything he does.” For example, Harris brought the 2017 PGA Championship to Quail Hollow Club, where he is president, Morgan said.

Past winners of the chamber’s award include Rick Hendrick, founder of Charlotte auto dealership Hendrick Automotive Group; retired Bank of America chief executive Hugh McColl Jr.; and former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt.

Also Tuesday, the role of chair of the chamber officially changed hands from Bank of America Chief Administrative Officer Andrea Smith to Kendall Alley, Wells Fargo region bank president for Charlotte.

Alley stressed the need for the chamber’s members to be “all in” and help address the city’s challenges, such as in economic mobility. Alley said it is important that Charlotte provide economic opportunities for everyone.

“The goal for the chamber in my opinion is to be seen by everyone in Charlotte,” Alley said. “We all have to be all in. That means supporting economic development for all.”

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts

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