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Airport expert to bring 'Aerotropolis' concept to Indianapolis

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Indianapolis International Airport officials about to contemplate what to do with the former passenger terminal and its vast parking lots are entertaining ideas from an expert on making airports the hub of a much broader urban development.

John D. Kasarda, a professor of management and director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina, is a proponent of the "Aerotropolis,” an airport city with well-planned outlying corridors and clusters of aviation-linked business and residential development.

Kasarda, an adviser to airports around the globe, will make a presentation Wednesday afternoon to the Indianapolis Airport Authority Board.

The board as early as next month could hire a firm to study land use and redevelopment of the former terminal site. But inviting Kasarda shows officials are thinking about broader development potential of the airport.

The issue, said Kasarda, is “will it grow in an intelligent manner?”

Airports in the United States lag those in many other nations, including those in Asia and the Middle East, which have viewed their airports as a primary asset for competing, with carefully planned aviation-related commercial and residential development radiating from the airport.

In the United States, airports are often viewed not as an opportunity but “as a nuisance” by comparison, Kasarda said. “The U.S. has lagged terribly.”

Admittedly, other nations such as China have the advantage of often starting from scratch, with greenfield airport sites that aren’t tightly enveloped by dense, existing development. There’s little if any legal recourse for existing property owners who are displaced. Nor do they face the same environmental constraints as old airports in America.

Successful implementation of an Aerotropolis requires integrated planning with other government and community entities outside the airport.
With the raw realities and rivalries of politics, such multi-jurisdictional cooperation is easier said than done.

Still, other cities are trying it, such as Memphis. The city has created an Aerotropolis steering committee and has pulled in such groups as that city’s chamber of commerce.

Detroit has embarked on the same path, along with Dallas-Fort Worth, Kasarda said.

Political challenges aside, Indianapolis has a several advantages already, such as a number of large plots of land, good road connectivity and big commercial facilities at the airport such as FedEx’s No. 2 U.S. package hub.

Kasarda also said new airport director John Clark has shown vision for making airports more of an economic development generator, noting Clark’s past work as head of Jacksonville, Fla.’s airport system.  Neighborhood groups near Jacksonville’s airports weren’t always sweet on the airport’s broader vision, however, according to published reports.

The Aerotropolis would be designed based on factors such as how frequently a business used the airport. Those using it less could be located farther out from the field, for example.

The concept also contemplates efficiencies in mobility, such as dedicated truck lanes and residential communities for airport workers and frequent flyers.

These clusters of airport-related developments are well executed in places such as Las Colinas, Texas; Amsterdam-Zuidas; and South Korea’s Songdo International Business District, Kasarda said.

Potential development concepts for Indianapolis International have already been contemplated by Ball State University’s School of Architecture, as part of a passenger rail transportation vision for the region.

For example, one idea proposed by a team of graduate students led by professor Harry Eggink is an airport commercial and residential community across from the old terminal, just east of Interstate 465.

The pedestrian-friendly community concept, with its own park, would have meeting halls and housing for passengers to catch a nap between flights or to stay after a flight has been delayed. The concept envisions a monorail line to the new, midfield terminal, to the west, with rail connections running the other direction, to downtown.

One idea batted around was “sleeping pods,” such as the small modules that make up Tokyo’s Tube Hotel, to allow passengers a modicum of dignity rather than sleeping on the floor at the airport.

Such concepts may seem preposterous in Indiana but, as part of the process of finding ideal land uses, airport officials “have to do some dreaming,” said Eggink, applauding the airport’s willingness to study the possibilities.

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  • Indy Mills
    There are "Mills" outlet malls all over the US, such as Opry Mills in Nashville, Potomac Mills outside DC and so on. The old airport terminal would make a logical place for a HUGE, well planned outlet mall. It is close to 465, 70 and the airport. I also agree Indy and the Midwest needs high speed rail, like, yesterday!
  • THINK DIFFERENT!
    Make this a small city with condo's - restaurants - small casino - theatre's.
    SOMETHING DIFFERENT. This is hard for conservative backward Hoosiers TO COMPREHEND. NO MORE DIRTY TRUCK TERMINALS FOR CHR*ST SAKES!!
  • Silly Plans
    Light rail to the airport is idiotic if not completed last. The purpose of any public transit system is to allow the inhabitants to move about. Forcing the inhabitants to pay for a replacement to a cab ride is outright immoral. If light rail ever goes to the airport, it must be the very last spur in the system.
  • light rail / high speed rail
    High speed rail needs to come into the city center, preferably Union Station. Much of the appeal of a high speed rail network in the midwest is being able to travel directly from city center to city center. It also needs to be 220mph, not just 110mph. Imagine, with a true high speed line in place, places like Lafayette are all of a sudden a suburb of both downtown Indianapolis and Chicago (amazing!).

    As for light rail, Indy is way behind as should be expected from a fiscally conservative city. More money will be spent this year on 465 and I-69 than it would cost to get the nickel plate line up and going up to Noblesville (via NE Indy, Castleton, Fishers). A rail line to the airport should have been part of our super bowl proposal (if it wasn't originally?) and is also needed badly.

    I like the proposal for the old airport and hope it succeeds, I just hope that it doesn't take our high speed rail stop away from union station and our city center. It would make no sense.
  • Trains already!
    We are LONG overdue for some high speed regional rail. Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to just take a high speed train to Chicago? Can you even begin to imagine the cultural benefit? School kids could go to museums in Chicago or Cinci in a day and safely. It's really absurd we don't have one in place already when you take a look at Europe. Indy would be a great place for a rail hub to all the midwest.

    Cityside - I completely disagree. Buses and trains are two different things. Whenever I travel to other cities I always take public transportation - usually trains. It's a convenient, quick way to get around a city without worrying about driving around an unfamiliar place and parking.

    I love the Aerotropolis concept - I hope they can make it work here.
  • In Indiana, busses have a really bad stigma as transportation for the poor. As shown by the Fishers bus line, busses can work, but they have to be clean and dependable. But as mentioned, they are slower than cars and affected by weather and traffic.

    A rail system has a better image and would get you to your destination faster regardless of traffic or weather. But if the powers that be really want rail, quit adding lanes to I-69 and I-465 and use that money for rail. As the interstates fill up with traffic, rail will be more attractive.

    As far as this article, sounds promising. It would be nice if it works.
  • Bus/Train
    What? Most people would without question prefer a Train over a Bus as the preferred method of mass transit both locally and regionally. Light Rail locally and High Speed regionally.

    I wouldn't ride a local IndyGo bus even it was free. However, I would pay to use a Light Rail Train to and from Downtown/Airport and use it frequently, plus I would almost ALWAYS take the Train over a Car/Bus when traveling Regionally (Chicago, Cincy, St Louis, etc...).

    I would have used the train 40-50 times this past year alone if I could get from the Northside to Downtown/Airport.
  • Bring on the trains.
    People don't ride buses because buses suck. They are slow (no faster than a car) and spew out pollution. Meanwhile, trains make minimal stops and get you from point A to point B at least as fast as driving, usually much faster. And they don't add to congestion.

    Buses are only useful for really long haul (Megabus) or as a short haul distribution from a train stop.

    So back to the article...I fly a lot. I would totally take a train to the airport. I wouldn't have to pay for parking, in the winter I wouldn't have to dig my car out, I don't have to remember where I parked, etc.
  • The reality is...
    People wont ride bus in this part of county, why do some people think they will ride a train? Until megabus and greyhounds regional routes are overcrowded and profitable the passenger rail talk needs to be nothing more than a concept of a 30year master plan!
    The article is a great idea for the land use though.
    • Transportation Hub
      If Downtown Indy had a smaller local Transportation Hub, the Old Airport could redevelop into a larger Regional Centralized Transportation Terminal.

      Buses, Trains, Shipping, and obviously an emphasis on Air Travel would all be ideal for centrally located Indy at that site.

      A connecting Train from Downtown to the Airport is long overdue. Have the local lines go Downtown and branch out, 1 connector to the Airport and then the Regional System interconnects from there.

      High-speed Rail is the future for Regional Travel... period. There is a misguided fight against it, but it is still the ultimate end goal.

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