CLT Airport’s New Long-range Plan
First Draft of New Plan Released for Comments
We all know that the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT Airport) is a huge boon to economic development in this region. This over-sized hub for American Airlines is the second largest in its network and its traffic is a major reason for it being the 6th busiest hub in the United States. From its gates, you can fly to visit or conduct business in nearly every U.S. market without changing planes. As such, it makes the Charlotte region a great location for doing business throughout the U.S. domestic economy.
Just two years ago, Norfolk Southern Railroad (NS) built a new NS Intermodal Center at the south end of CLT Airport between two of the runways with an initial capacity to manage over 200,000 shipping containers per year with options on additional land to handle another 400,000 containers each year.
While the two operations do not affect each other, they are important assets that can be enhanced to spur even more substantial investment in the greater Charlotte region.
CLT Airport and the NS Intermodal have been in the plans since 1996 when the first long-range plan was prepared. Previous CLT Airport Director Jerry Orr and urban planner Michael Gallis laid the groundwork for many of the changes that have been incorporated into the airport over the last 20 years.
Just this year, the State of North Carolina granted a fuel tax exemption for American Airlines and plans for an expanded passenger terminal have been completed and construction is on schedule. Serving over 40 million passengers each year requires an expansion of the main terminal to accommodate further growth. All this work was rewarded when American Airlines extended their contract of gates and the maintenance of the airport services for another 10 years.
Aside from expanding the number of gates from 93 to 169 gates over the next 20 years, American Airlines is interested in expanding its service for passengers and for air cargo. Their activity and the growth of the airport is also bringing a new state-of-the-art airport tower that will be built over the next five years and at least one 12,000-foot runway will be added.
In January of f2016, CLT Airport contracted for a new long-range plan with the approval of the Charlotte City Council. CLT Airport contracted with MXD Developers out of British Columbia to conduct this long-range planning study for $900,000. MXD has considerable airport planning experience having worked with the Denver International Airport as well as airports in Memphis, Atlanta, Halifax, Alberta and Edmonton in the U.S. and in Canada. They have also been instrumental to plans in South America, Australia and South Africa.
MXD was charged with developing a long-range plan that included all of the land within the CLT Airport and NS Intermodal operations and the surrounding 6,000 acres owned by the airport. See map.
MXD, with the guidance of CLT Airport officials met with as many airport stakeholders as they could to gain input about the wisest and best use of that area. They were anxious to learn all they could and to gain the ideas of that will further enhance the land use and maximize its value to the City of Charlotte and its citizens.
Following extensive meetings, they have drafted the first version of their report and are disseminating it for additional comments and recommendations. Stuart Hair, Director of Economic Affairs at CLT Airport, conducted the briefing to the Charlotte City Council on September 12th. “One of CLT’s principals is strategic growth: How do we grow appropriately?” said Stuart Hair, economic affairs manager at Charlotte Douglas. “This is about protecting our future of our core business (but) the economy can grow and diversify, and there is unique connectivity offered by transportation modes at and around the airport.”
Hair outlined four primary objectives of the long-range plan:
- to protect future growth and flexibility of CLT aeronautical operations through compatible-use development;
- maintain the airport’s competitiveness by growing non-aeronautical revenue;
- leverage CLT and the Norfolk Southern Intermodal Facility as economic engines to diversify the local economy;
- and grow and enhance employment opportunities for local and expanding businesses.
The plan identifies five catalyst
areas around CLT that are primed for development, all with different uses and targeted economic clusters.
- CLT – Front Door Office Village – A CLT Gateway District would sit at the entrance to the airport, primarily containing office development and on-site meeting and corporate event facilities.
- CLT Terminal Hotel – Another development area includes a hotel directly connected to the terminal as well as a retail and events plaza, which Cagle and Hair said would be attractive for passengers and CLT employees.
- CLT Retail Village and Events Plaza – Demand for retail and services would also naturally be driven by new office development to the CLT West region and to the Billy Graham corridor.
- CLT Fast Cycle Logistics – A fast-cycle logistics and e-commerce fulfillment hub would target specific tenants, particularly ones in advanced manufacturing — “machines and materials that make the machines and materials,” according to Hair.
- CLT temperature controlled logistics and distribution center – A second hub proposed for another area would focus on temperature-controlled logistics, a subset of the industrial sector that would be advantageously positioned near transportation modes in the immediate vicinity — the airport, rail and interstates.
Aviation-related tenants are expected to fill a majority of the office component. As CLT grows, so does the need for more employees to staff new divisions, all of which requires more square footage — even the airport’s current offices are running out of room. “We have 20,000 employees — they all need space,” said Brent Cagle, aviation director at Charlotte Douglas. “Some of our tenants are running out of space at the terminal.”
Remaining commercial space in the office development could target users that necessitate direct proximity to the airport. The airport seeks to partner with third-party development and brokerage firms to develop the buildings and lease office space, but the airport — and, by extension, the Federal Aviation Administration — would still own the land, likely striking concession agreements and ground leases with those seeking to develop around the airport.
“We would always retain ownership,” Cagle said. “It would also mean we could control the uses and that it doesn’t one day down the road become an issue for non-compatible uses.” Cagle added that the FAA generally expects individual airports to be “self-sustaining” and that leaders at those hubs should come up with ways to grow revenue and competitiveness in their individual market, one of the stated intentions of CLT’S AASDP.
Cagle and Hair also articulated that they would continue to collaborate with Lincoln Harris and Crescent Communities, who are spearheading a massive mixed-use project called River District in close proximity to the airport. That project will add millions of square feet of office space and thousands of residents when built out. They also intend to work with other brokers and developers on other projects.
This initial draft of the long-range plan will undergo scrutiny by the various stakeholders to ensure their ideas, thoughts and concerns will be considered and captured before the final plan is written and submitted for approval by the City Council sometime in November or December.