Fulton County Commission Chair Robb Pitts said in a state of the county address that Fulton has both challenges and opportunities. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) AJC FILE PHOTO
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Fulton to expand Charlie Brown airport, Pitts says at annual address

Fulton County intends to make its airport, Charlie Brown Field, a destination for corporate jets and business growth, Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said Tuesday in a state of the county address.

Pitts announced a series of expansions for the general aviation airport north of I-20 near I-285, including a new administration office, a modernized aircraft rescue and firefighting command center, more hangar space, a restaurant and a center for economic development. He also said he expects to announce new businesses coming to the area around the airport in the coming months. He did not say how much the county would spend on the projects.

The improvements, he said, would lead the airport to rival any other general aviation airport in the country and would be intended to lure more corporate aircraft and provide an economic development boost for the region. UPS recently located a regional shipping hub adjacent to the airport, bringing 3,000 jobs.

“It’s probably the biggest asset Fulton County has,” Pitts said in an interview before the speech. “It’s simply been an underutilized asset we’ve had. Now, they’re thinking big and bold.”

Also big and bold: Pitts’ call to bring a casino and horse racing to the county, as well as a professional cricket team and a Grammy hall of fame.

“It won’t be long,” Pitts said of the casino plan. Pitts has been lobbying state officials for the long-shot effort, which would require state approval.

In his speech at Flourish in Buckhead, Pitts, the county’s top elected official, laid out the successes and the challenges the Fulton faces. It was his first state-of-the-county speech since being elected to a full, four-year term last year.

Pitts lauded Fulton’s corporate relocations and award-winning high school teams. He also announced plans to improve relationships with foreign governments, including a trade mission to India and a visit from the ambassador to Qatar.

Swati Kulkarni, the consul general for India, attended the speech. She said the proposals to improve relations were exciting, and that she was looking forward to building relationships.

“Whatever facilitation he requires, we are so delighted to give it to him,” she said.

There are plenty of challenges the county still has to contend with, including a continuing opioid crisis and the proliferation of HIV and AIDS, Pitts said. Fulton partnered with the Elton John AIDS Foundation to end AIDS; the county will also receive federal funding to help its efforts.

Commissioners last week agreed to spend $270,000 on a feasibility study to replace the county’s outdated animal shelter.

And transportation continues to be a need. Pitts called for Fulton County to have a representative on the regional ATL Board, which came together late last year without Fulton getting an automatic seat at the table. Pitts lauded the efforts the county is making to expand public transportation and he praised the road investments that have come in recent years. County officials and mayors on Friday pushed forward with a broad $1.3 billion mass transit plan that they hope to bring to voters in a 2020 referendum.

Doug Jenkins, the metro north regional director of Georgia Power, said he appreciated Pitts’ embrace of the issues the county continues to face, and that Pitts talked about all of Fulton County.

“It was not just about the successes we had, but also the fact that we’ve got a lot of challenges in front of us,” Jenkins said. “He clearly laid out the things we need to work on. Transportation is clearly a big deal. We need to continue innovative solutions for that.”

Sen. Donzella James, D-South Fulton, said she was glad to hear about jobs and growth opportunities in the county.

Pitts also talked about ongoing projects, like the renovation of the Fulton County Courthouse and an ongoing project to renovate libraries in the country.

“We’ve got to think big,” Pitts said after the speech.

The state of the county address comes days after the death of longtime County Commissioner Emma Darnell. Pitts began his speech with a moment of silence for her, thanking her for her service. Others praised her as well, including Katherine Zitsch, the director of the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District and a sponsor of the event.

“She worked tirelessly to make Fulton County a better place to live and to work,” Zitsch said.

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