Commercial Real Estate and Office Complexes and Development/Redevelopment and Real Estate & Retail

Browning eyes airport land

March 3, 2008

Browning Investments is contemplating developing a business park just north of Indianapolis International Airport in what would be the largest development to date in the so-called Minnesota Street corridor.

The Indianapolis Airport Authority in January tabled a lease/purchase proposal for 61 acres to give the developer more time to work through issues ranging from deteriorated infrastructure at the site to federal rules governing reuse of airport land.

Browning is one of the Midwest's biggest developers of bulk distribution facilities, including AllPoints Midwest and Airtech Park, both in Plainfield.

Though the company declined to elaborate on its plans for Minnesota Street, it did rule out building a large-scale distribution facility at the site because of the configuration of the property.

However, it could be ideal for 40,000- to 50,000-square-foot buildings, for example, said James Browning, the firm's executive vice president of development.

The site is tucked behind restaurants, car lots, self-storage facilities and other retail properties that front the south side of Washington Street. The airport snapped up the previously residential area behind the retail strip in the 1980s and 1990s using federal grants to buy land incompatible with airport noise.

It demolished most of the houses. Largely what remains is crumbling blacktop, mature trees and weathered street signs, including one for Havana Avenue that now droops like a wet Cuban cigar.

Two years ago, then-Mayor Bart Peterson and airport officials announced plans to aggressively market the Minnesota Street corridor's 104 acres.

They said selling the land would generate new property tax revenue for local government and create new business opportunities on the far-west side.

About 1,200 homes have disappeared from tax rolls in Wayne and Decatur townships due to airport land acquisition, estimated Wayne Township Assessor Michael McCormack.

He said he hopes if Browning builds on the site, the resulting property tax revenue will revert to the township. The proposal Browning made to the airport late last year called for a 40-year land lease with an option to purchase the land.

"The lease will support the community's goal of putting the Minnesota Street corridor back on the property tax rolls," John J. Kish, executive director of the Indianapolis Airport Authority, said in a Dec. 27 memo to airport board members.

Challenges, opportunities

But there are complications. Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration issued new guidance regarding handling of land bought with federal grants, Kish said.

"Of concern is the FAA position that the federal government should participate in lease payments from such property. This impacts the structure of the proposed lease and suggests that we revisit the proposal before again asking the board to consider the matter," Kish said.

"That [FAA position] has not deterred us," Browning said. Rather, the developer is still working through a "litany" of challenges for the site, including utility infrastructure.

Assuming it advances, the business park could be attractive--and not just because of its proximity to a major airport. It's only about a mile to Interstate 465 via Washington Street. There's also a CSX Transportation rail line that cuts across the site's southern edge.

Ease of access might make it attractive to office-industrial companies, such as those in the service industry with fleets of vehicles, said Mike Wells, a former airport authority board member and president of local developer REI Investments.

"That could work because it's pretty well located for getting around the city," Wells said.

One challenge, Wells added, is that the Minnesota Street property includes some lots that have not yet been acquired.

Property owners are not required to sell their land to the airport under the federal noise purchase program, even though the corridor is beneath the flight path of aircraft landing on one of the airport's runways.

The authority has had some success in marketing land in the corridor, however.

Progress selling other land

A total of 32-1/2 acres in the Minnesota Street corridor has been sold or is under contract, at a value of $2.4 million, according to the airport authority.

The deals were struck with groups including First Airport Property Management LLC, City Wide Paving and RSK Prop. LLC.

So far, only City Wide Paving, 6341 W. Minnesota St., has moved forward with development; it is expanding its current facility near High School Road.

Both the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007 and Aviation Investment Modernization Act of 2007 contain amendments that would allow an airport to use proceeds from the disposal of the land for other noise or environmental projects and for various airport improvements.

Townships aren't passively waiting to get airport land back on the tax roles. For example, the Wayne Township assessor tried to get several businesses that sit on Indianapolis International land back on his rolls, including a BP station, the Radisson Hotel and several car rental facilities at the airport.

Marion County officials shot down his request. But the assessor has appealed to the Indiana Board of Tax Review, which could rule on his appeal next month.

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