The Indianapolis Airport Authority board Friday morning approved the hiring of a team of consulants who will recommend how best to redevelop 8,000 acres of airport property, including the former passenger terminal along High School Road.
Their work will “set the vision for the next 30 to 50 years,” said Marsha Stone, the authority’s chief financial officer.
Leading the team will be international aviation consultancy Landrum & Brown, which has previously worked on projects for the authority, including noise management. Landrum has developed a number of plans for top airports including that of Shanghai, China, and Chicago's O’Hare.
Local firms on the team are Indianapolis engineering consulting firm RW Armstrong Associates and local aviation consultancy Aerofinity. Chicago-based Unison Consulting, Cincinnati-based law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister and St. Louis-based commercial real estate firm Colliers Turley Martin Tucker round out the team.
Airport officials could finalize a contract with the consultants by the end of March.
Last August, airport staff issued a request for qualifications from firms. It received 14 responses.
Redevelop of airport land has gained new urgency for the airport authority, which opened the new, $1 billion midfield terminal just as the recession hit, curbing air travel and airport revenues, such as airplane landing fees and parking income.
Airport operating revenues last year came in at $122.8 million, below the nearly $129 million budgeted. The authority estimates a loss from operations of $40 million versus a projected loss of $29 million.
However, Stone said the authority has more than enough cash on hand and expects to be able to meet expenses, including the approximately $40 million-per-year debt service on the new terminal.
The land-use study will need to balance a number of interests, including economic development and job creation, while minimizing airport debt and maximizing its development revenue—all while preserving at least some of the land for future aviation uses.
“We have to have a revenue stream we can count on,” said Stone.
The authority also must find uses compatible with communities surrounding the airport. Board President Michael Stayton estimated there are at least 25 major stakeholders including municipal and county governments.
The airport authority’s previous master development plan dated to the 1970s and culminated with the completion of the midfield terminal in 2008.
“This is really an important step for the authority. It’s the next chapter,” Stayton said.
Stone said among the considerations for the team will be an “expectation that we try to minimize debt to the authority.”
That will help Indianapolis International contain costs airlines incur to use the airport and continue to make the airport attractive for air service.
The airport’s land use committee, which picked the new team members, also included Don Welsh, CEO of the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, and Scott Miller, CEO of Indianapolis Economic Development Inc.
The newly named team of consultants will look at a number of factors, including federal regulations affecting future airport land use, potential environmental issues, a market assessment of land values, potential public-private partnerships and job creation.
The team is expected to complete its work by the end of this year.
The consultants also will look at future uses based on the “aerotropolis” concept popularized by University of North Carolina management professor John Kasarda. Kasarda will work with the airport to develop a much broader blueprint for the best land use radiating miles from the airport to further make the airport a regional economic development engine.