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Airport's 104-acre land sale may not take off: Runways, private owners could hamper development

February 20, 2006

As city and airport officials begin to develop a marketing strategy for 104 acres just north and east of the Indianapolis International Airport, they will likely focus on the land's best attributes: access to the airport, Interstate 465 and a rail line.

Buyers will need to examine the fine print to learn why the land isn't likely to become a smaller version of the bustling Plainfield industrial and retail areas to the west.

Chief among those less-than-desirable features: The land isn't contiguous. The dozens of parcels fall into six chunks, and those are pocked with holes of land the airport doesn't own.

Even if a developer tried to acquire parcels from individuals, it wouldn't be able to buy nearby land the airport intends to keep or other parcels that are in runway paths.

Much of the land, particularly the eastern sites along Minnesota Street, is occupied with vacant single-family homes purchased by the airport in the 1980s and 1990s as part of a noise mitigation program. They would have to be demolished before any redevelopment could happen.

The most likely scenario, local real estate experts said, is that small developers will buy the land and sell off lots to small or midsize industrial users.

"On the industrial side, there's a lot of demand for two- to 10-acre parcels so people can buy and own their building," said Patrick Lindley, principal and executive vice president of the local office of St. Louis-based Colliers Turley Martin Tucker.

Lindley and others said the land is unlikely to draw the major bulk industrial players active in Plainfield because the relatively small size of the parcels doesn't leave enough room for the kind of mammoth distribution centers being built by developers such as locally based Browning Investments Inc. and California-based Panattoni Development Co. just across the Hendricks County line in Plainfield. An 800,000-square-foot warehouse, for instance, requires at least 30 acres of land for the building, parking lots and truck maneuvering areas.

Additionally, the airport land sits in Marion County, which, unlike Hendricks County, has been reluctant to offer tax abatements on speculative buildings, said Andrew Morris, managing director of the industrial advisory team at Indianapolisbased Meridian Real Estate.

The city of Indianapolis has pledged to work with airport and Wayne Township officials in marketing the land, which was put up for sale Feb. 2.

Airport officials are surveying and appraising the properties. They also plan to hold public forums to inform Wayne Township residents and get their feedback while developing a marketing plan.

Until those surveys and appraisals are complete, it's difficult to say how much money the land might fetch, real estate experts said. But land near the airport historically hasn't commanded as much as industrial property in other parts of the region's southwest submarket, where prices have risen to as much as $80,000 an acre.

"There's some potential with folks looking for lower-cost alternatives as far as the southwest submarket," Morris said. "There's so many nuances with the holes [of privately owned land] and the airport's runway, it's hard to say."

Retail development on some of the land isn't out of the question, particularly for the land fronting Washington Street, said Mark Writt, of the local office of Los Angelesbased CB Richard Ellis.

Any new retail might include fast-food restaurants or other businesses catering to the area's blue-collar work force, Writt said. Retailers seeking a wider audience have for years preferred more suburban sites, such as Plainfield and Avon, he noted.
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