When President Bowles and the trustees hired me, they told me that, more than anything, they valued my analytical skills. Well, I’ve spent a good part of my first months in this job studying and analyzing our plans for Carolina North.
It’s been really important for me to do that because Carolina North has such great potential to shape the University’s future.
I think we’re in a good position now with the Town. We’re working together productively, and we plan to reach agreement on the zoning issues by June 30, 2009.
One of the most vexing issues, though, has been the future of Horace Williams Airport. As you know, it occupies the heart of the Carolina North acreage. It’s the flattest part of the tract and, therefore, the best place to build Carolina North. So we have to close it.
Now, I realize it doesn’t take a lot of analysis to figure out that closing the airport is important for the future of Carolina North. But figuring out HOW to close the airport . . . that’s another story.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to this. The AHEC program is an extremely important asset to this University and to our state. Our doctors, nurses, other health professionals, and our MedAir pilots are as committed public servants as you will find. The work they do and the service they provide are fundamental to who we are as a university. And we are telling them that we have to close their airport to build Carolina North.
I have analyzed all the options, and I’m convinced that we really do have to close the airport to make Carolina North all that it must be. I’m equally convinced that we should fully support the airport authority authorized by the General Assembly as the best way to pursue creation of an airport in Orange County. It gives the county zoning authority, and it turns over the siting and development to a public body with greater expertise than we have.
For AHEC and MedAir, I think a move to RDU for the short-term is workable. But for the long-term, we owe it to our doctors to appoint the airport authority to see if there’s a better alternative.
We have said all along that we wouldn’t close Horace Williams Airport until we had to. With today’s challenging economic climate, we anticipate that funding for initial Carolina North construction likely will be delayed. Our state appropriation for planning and infrastructure for the Law School relocation to Carolina North is frozen, at least for now. And Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc., our partner for the Innovation Center, has put new projects on hold, although they have affirmed their interest in our project.
I look at all of this with a ‘glass half-full’ perspective. It allows us to appoint the airport authority and launch that important work. And it gives me a chance to get involved in the Carolina North planning. I am really looking forward to the opportunity to engage our faculty in updating the vision for Carolina North.
The town’s rezoning will give us a map of the Carolina North property with squares that represent buildings. I want our faculty to help me generate some world-changing ideas for what we do inside those buildings.
Then, when the funding picture improves, we will be prepared to move forward with a focused vision for Carolina North that meets the needs of the University, the Town of Chapel Hill and the State of North Carolina.