Peter St. Onge

Is it too soon for Jerry Orr Boulevard?

Staff Photographer

You might have missed some good management in the news this week.

It happened Monday at a meeting of the Charlotte City Council, which approved $48 million for the construction of a multilane access road at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

City and airport officials want that road not because driving in and out of CLT is awful now – it’s not – but because the more our air traffic numbers swell, the more the traffic below might get clogged.

That’s smart. Any good business exec will tell you that it’s better to plan for growth now than to suddenly realize all your pant legs are up over your ankles.

It’s the kind of forward thinking we long had at Charlotte’s airport, too, and it began with the leadership of former director Jerry Orr.

So here’s a suggestion some of those city officials won’t like: Maybe we should put Orr’s name on that new access road.

The case for doing so is easy. Orr successfully navigated decades of growth at Charlotte Douglas, which means he gets some credit for the growth of our city, too. No, he’s not up there with the McColls and Belks, but he’s only a couple of rows back in coach.

Orr wasn’t perfect, of course. His ego was more 767 than Cessna, and after years of running things just fine at Charlotte Douglas, he didn’t seem to take kindly a few years back to City Manager Ron Carlee checking in on things.

That led to Orr’s biggest mistake: When state lawmakers tried to take control of the airport away from Charlotte in 2013, Orr cast his lot with the legislators instead of his city bosses. Some Charlotte officials wondered if Orr even instigated the whole mess.

Whatever Orr’s role, he lost. The city gummed up the takeover with legal maneuvering, and Orr ultimately resigned from directing a commission that still isn’t running anything.

All of which has left Orr’s legacy dented, at least from the perspective of many at the Government Center. So it’s probably a long shot that the city will name anything after him. After all, what kind of boss would honor an employee who showed so little loyalty?

Maybe it’s one who understands that we are an accumulation of good and poor decisions.

Yes, Orr’s backstabbing at the end counts for something, but how much should it count against his accomplishments? And when we tell Charlotte’s story 50 years from now, which should count for more?

At least some officials have pondered that. Last year, a City Council member unofficially floated the idea of naming a road after Orr. The suggestion was met with a chilly reception.

Now there’s another road, another opportunity.

There are some technical complications. The access road is actually an extension of Josh Birmingham Parkway, so making it Orr Boulevard might require some address changes. Or we could just name the road after Orr where the extension begins, because that’s how we roll in Charlotte.

City officials have a few years to figure those things out. Maybe by then they’ll be ready to recognize the best someone has done without letting it be overshadowed by the bad.


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