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Local voices: Barbra Coffee, College Park
February 14, 2013 10:14 AM | 2227 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Airport Cities. Aerotropolis. It’s a topic you are bound to hear a lot more about in the Atlanta metropolitan region this year. With the Atlanta Regional Commission steering an Airport Area Taskforce in a dialogue about the future of our airport area, with the City of Atlanta engaged in their master plan update, and with city and county jurisdictions surrounding Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport grappling with how to improve the infrastructure and image of what is the gateway to the world’s busiest airport, you will, no doubt, find yourself engaged, in one way or another, in a conversation about what we need to do going forward to ready ourselves for the future.

Now, more than ever, development is moving more toward the airport rather than away from it. Social economists and urban planners are talking a lot about the rapidly changing world in which we live and the trend toward the rise of airport cities all across the globe. The academic concept of “aerotropolis” is a term coined by Dr. John Kasarda, University of North Carolina professor and director of the Center for Air Commerce at UNC’s Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise. Kasarda maintains that regions and countries worldwide need to leverage their airports and surrounding areas for economic growth. He warns that if we continue to neglect the areas around our airports, we will be unable to compete and prosper in a global economy.

Businesses need easy access to airports. Whether your industry is warehousing, logistics, biotech, or manufacturing, or if your company is simply engaged in sales of some product or service, the need to be in close proximity to an airport is paramount in this global economy. Communities are responding by creating development opportunities surrounding major international airports. Atlanta is no different, and in a lot of respects, we have everything it takes to compete as a region.

Atlanta is home to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest passenger airport for more than a decade. More than 240,000 travelers a day come through the airport, which totals almost 90 million people a year.

The numbers are significant, as is the economic impact.

There are approximately 58,000 on-airport jobs, with another 169,500 visitor-related jobs generated because of traveler needs for area hotels, restaurants, entertainment and transportation. This amounts to more than $7.5 billion in wages and salaries. With that much business taking place in and around the airport, it doesn’t take much to figure out that people just might want to live and work closer to the heart of that activity.

The City of College Park has found itself right in the heart of this renaissance of the Atlanta airport area. It has always been here; the city boasts Georgia’s fourth-largest historic district, but it has morphed over time. With the growth of the airport and runway expansions, whole residential neighborhoods have been wiped out, and population loss has been dramatic over a period of 40 years.

So College Park began to reinvent itself.

With residential use out of the question because of the noise impacts, most of the land in College Park is transitioning to commercial uses such as Class A office and hospitality. The city successfully demonstrated this in the development of the Gateway Center that surrounds the city-owned and operated Georgia International Convention Center (GICC), the state’s second-largest convention facility with 400,000 square feet of meeting space. Two hotels - a Springhill Suites and a full-service Gateway Marriott Hotel - along with the first Class A office building opened in 2009-2010 as a public/private partnership with Atlanta-based developer Grove Street Partners. The hotels are enjoying close to 70 percent occupancy on a regular basis, and the 130,000 square foot office building is 100 percent leased.

What makes it work, you might ask? In a city that struggles with image, not unlike most major American urban cores that fight the perception of crime and not unlike most airport area neighborhoods that strive to create a balance of industry and community in a once-perceived industrial area, College Park made an investment. Participating in the financing of the automated people mover, the ATL SkyTrain that takes travelers to the new car rental facility, College Park saw an opportunity.

The city invested in the development of a station that would allow people the ability to access the Gateway Center/GICC and adjacent hotels and office. These facilities are now transit-connected to the world’s busiest airport. There is not another hotel or office building in the world that can claim that kind of connectivity.

In addition, College Park owns more than 200 acres within its own city limits for future development; property that sits conveniently west of its downtown and stretches to its city-owned,nine-hole golf course. Complete with a traditional street grid, ideal for a westward expansion of its downtown, this property sits along one of the city’s most traveled thoroughfares, Camp Creek Parkway, which connects Interstate 285 to the airport. More than 40,000 vehicles per day travel this road, most of which are headed directly to the airport. The opportunity to develop property along this corridor is ideally suited for mixed-use office and retail with immediate access to the convention center on the south side of the street. The city anticipates finding a master developer to assist with the build out of this prime real estate.

From Shanghai to Paris to Denver, airport cities around the globe are promoting the competitive advantage of growing businesses near their international airport. And residential and entertainment complexes are following, as the advantage of accessing jobs, customers and opportunities comes more critically into focus.The airport is no longer a facility stuck way out on the outskirts of town, rather, it is a core economic engine, a vibrant hub of activity that attracts rather than repels; that supports rather than burdens.

College Park, in its fortunate location at the doorstep of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, will lead by example in its endeavor to attract everything from corporate headquarters to retail and tourism development – to build an airport city this country can be proud of as it welcomes millions through its gates every year.

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