When Repub­li­cans come to town, this should be our im­age

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY JACK CLAI­BORNE, SPE­CIAL TO THE OB­SERVER Jack Clai­borne is a re­tired as­so­ciate ed­i­tor of the Ob­server.

When del­e­gates to the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion ar­rive in 18 months, what im­age of Char­lotte will greet them? St. Louis has the arch. Seat­tle has the space nee­dle. New Or­leans has Bour­bon Street. What is Char­lotte’s de­fin­i­tive sym­bol?

His­tory sug­gests two pos­si­bil­i­ties. One is am­bi­tion. Named for an English queen, Char­lotte has long sought to live up to its royal lin­eage by be­com­ing a sig­nif­i­cant place. An­other is the en­ergy to ful­fill that am­bi­tion.

When gold was dis­cov­ered in 1799, the city schemed to se­cure a branch of the United States Mint, which be­gin­ning in 1837 made Char­lotte a good place to make money. In the 1840s and ‘50s it sold bonds that made Char­lotte the junc­tion of two rail­roads and a re­gional dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter. In the 1880s and ’90s, it cheered the build­ing of cot­ton mills that at­tracted blue-col­lar work­ers and cre­ated white-col­lar wealth.

In the 1930s and ‘40s those mills faded as sup­pli­ers of tex­tile ma­chin­ery, chem­i­cals, dyes, truck­ing, and ac­count­ing turned Char­lotte into a tex­tile ser­vice cen­ter.

Af­ter the 1914 es­tab­lish­ment of the Fed­eral Re­serve Bank, Char­lotte fi­na­gled to win a branch that made the city a fi­nan­cial mag­net. In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, bank merg­ers and ex­pan­sions gave it the en­ergy that lights its sky­line to­day.

Spark­ing many of those ad­vances was an­other en­ergy, one gen­er­ated by tur­bines and whisked along high-ten­sion wires. Char­lotte got elec­tric­ity in 1886 but in 1904 when the South­ern Power Com­pany es­tab­lished head­quar­ters here, it got a pow­er­house. Draw­ing on the deep pock­ets of James B. Duke, South­ern Power (now Duke En­ergy) could have es­tab­lished head­quar­ters any­where, but chose Char­lotte for its en­tre­pre­neur­ial en­ergy.

South­ern Power not only as­sured the city a re­li­able source of elec­tric­ity but it also brought hu­man en­ergy – en­gi­neers, hy­drol­o­gists, lawyers, man­agers and in­vestors – whose ex­per­tise greatly ex­panded Char­lotte’s hu­man cap­i­tal.

Those ex­perts wanted for Char­lotte the qual­ity of life they had known else­where and set about ac­quir­ing it in the arts, sci­ences, ed­u­ca­tion, and pol­i­tics. Wil­liam States Lee, the com­pany’s chief en­gi­neer, was the first pres­i­dent of the mod­ern Cham­ber of Com­merce.

The pres­ence of such ex­perts has brought oth­ers of like mind to make Char­lotte a more at­trac­tive place to live and work. It also has made Duke En­ergy one of the largest, most ad­mired pub­lic util­i­ties in Amer­ica.

So it would be fit­ting for Char­lotte to present it­self to the Repub­li­cans and the rest of the coun­try as The En­ergy Hub, an im­age po­si­tion­ing the city for fu­ture promi­nence.

To sym­bol­ize that im­age it should place so­lar pan­els on the roofs of most of its pub­lic build­ings and en­cour­age pri­vate com­pa­nies to do the same, as Char­lotte ar­chi­tect Mur­ray Whis­nant has sug­gested.

It wouldn’t cost much and there’s still time to get it done. It would be a good way to put more stars in the Queen City’s crown.

JOHN D. SIM­MONS jsim­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Char­lotte needs to de­cide on an im­age to project to the na­tion dur­ing the RNC next year.

Jack Clai­borne

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