Aerotropolis Atlanta leading the way to world-class airport community

Pedro Cherry

Pedro Cherry

By Pedro Cherry in the Atlanta Business Chronicle

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is responsible for putting more metro Atlantans to work than any single employer in the region, claiming direct responsibility for more than 64,000 jobs. And it contributes $32 billion to the economy every year.

As chairman of the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance, I like to think of Hartsfield-Jackson as more than that, though. I think of it as the front door for metro Atlanta, or even for the Southeast. It is our first impression to millions of visitors every year.

I also think of it as the driving force behind the Atlanta region’s next hot market. With plenty of available land for development, the presence of major corporations and access to three critical interstates, the south side of metro Atlanta is definitely on the rise.

Just looking at the area we call Aerotropolis Atlanta, one can find: Fortune 500 companies, Georgia’s second-largest convention center, five MARTA stations, three community improvement districts and three film studios, for starters.

With the Airport area’s cluster of existing hotels, two four-star hotels on the way, and millions of square feet of office, warehouse and commercial space planned at Fort Gillem, at Fort McPherson, and all around, the Aerotropolis community is ready to take off. And it’s bringing south metro with it.

However, that success can only be sustained if it’s well planned and has the support of local governments, non-profits, academia, and business partners. That’s where the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance comes in.

After meeting informally for a few years, we officially chartered in 2014. By the end of 2015, we had 28 public, private and nonprofit investors and partners who raised more than $400,000 to lay the foundation for broader economic development in the area.

We believe the aerotropolis concept will work because we see coordinated development helping airports around the world become economic drivers, much like the shipping ports of old.

In many places, a large portion of the aerotropolis land is controlled by the airport or by one governmental jurisdiction, making it easier to plan development. But in Aerotropolis Atlanta, land can be found in any number of cities and counties, as well as within the airport property.

Today, all of these jurisdictions sit at our table, working collaboratively to improve the Aerotropolis community. They understand that a win for one is a win for all.

During its first two years, the Alliance has already made significant progress. It collaborated with the founders of two new community improvement districts that will function as one body, called the Aerotropolis CIDs. It hosted North America’s first SMART Airports and Regions Conference in 2015 with 600 attendees from 16 countries. It participated in two trade missions, developed new branding and continues to develop its Aerotropolis Atlanta Blueprint.

Scheduled for adoption later this year, the Blueprint aims to provide a vision and strategy for a world-class, airport-centric community that benefits the entire Atlanta region.

Taking into account the abundance of developable land around Hartsfield-Jackson, the Blueprint proposes uses for certain areas. For example, it envisions a “corporate crescent” stretching across the north side of the airport property, including Porsche Cars North America and Delta Air Lines. The airport property would also be bookended by an “International Gateway” of commercial and restaurant properties located opposite the proposed Airport City.

With corporations like Porsche, Delta, Chick-fil-A, SunTrust and Georgia Power joined on its board by every local city, county and chamber of commerce, as well as the Annie E. Casey Foundation and other nonprofits and educational institutions, the Alliance is about more than just development. It also has several efforts underway to meet the workforce needs for a wide range of employers.

As you can see, there is a vision and there is a plan. Now we are focused on working with our partners to make it a reality. More investors and more voices are always welcome as we work to make the Aerotropolis Atlanta community, and all of the Atlanta region, a better place for everyone.

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