Airport expert to bring 'Aerotropolis' concept to Indianapolis

January 20, 2010

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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