5 things to know (and a surprise or two) about the airport’s plans for west Charlotte

Undeveloped land north of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, on Barry Drive, under flight paths. This used to be a neighborhood. The airport plans to redevelop much of its land holdings by partnering with private developers.
Undeveloped land north of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, on Barry Drive, under flight paths. This used to be a neighborhood. The airport plans to redevelop much of its land holdings by partnering with private developers.

As Charlotte Douglas International Airport grew in recent decades from a local hub to a global powerhouse, the airport gradually acquired more and more of the surrounding land, swelling past its original borders as it bought out homeowners under ever-busier flight paths.

Now, Charlotte Douglas is one of the largest landowners in the city, with more than 6,000 acres. Much of that is home to the airport itself, including runways and cargo facilities. But now Charlotte Douglas is looking for new uses for about 2,000 acres that it doesn’t need for aviation.

“The land we’ve acquired over the years, we haven’t done anything with,” said Charlotte Douglas Economic Affairs Manager Stuart Hair. The airport is planning to partner with developers to redevelop the land, which Hair quipped is now just “growing possums and pine trees.”

The airport, an independently financed city department, hired consultant MXD last year for $900,000 to conduct a development study. The airport plans to present the study to Charlotte City Council for final approval in February. The final plan won’t be a binding document, Hair said, but is intended to guide future development.

Here are five key things to know as the airport gets ready to reshape much of the city’s west side (which is separate from the ongoing $2.5 billion plan to expand the terminal, airport and airport roadways).

1. The plans don’t include new apartments or houses.

One of the main ways Charlotte Douglas ended up with so much land in the first place was through buying out people with houses under takeoff and departure paths. The land between Wilkinson Boulevard and Interstate 85, north of the terminal, used to be a neighborhood that’s since been demolished. South of the airport, Charlotte Douglas decided to spend $35 million buying a neighborhood along Steele Creek Road in 2013.

Other land nearby has been acquired for the airport’s expansion plans, a process that’s still ongoing. Earlier this year, Charlotte Douglas paid $755,000 for the Adult Super Store at Wilkinson Boulevard and Barry Drive.

So, since most of the property was acquired to get people off the land, Charlotte Douglas doesn’t plan to bring residents back. Most of the land would be earmarked for warehouses, high-end manufacturing, office space and logistics. The one residential component that could appear: Hotel rooms, probably near the airport’s entrance off Wilkinson Boulevard. Hair said an airport hotel would fill a gap for both stranded passengers and business travelers.

2. Charlotte Douglas isn’t becoming a developer.

“We are not in the business of doing development,” said Hair. “I’m not Lincoln Harris or Bissell.”

Rather than developing 2,000 acres itself, Charlotte Douglas will look to partner with private sector developers to actually build the new facilities. Hair said the airport will solicit applications for various projects through a public procurement process. For most future projects, the airport will likely retain ownership of the land and collect rent from the developments that emerge.

3. The developments might not be an immediate windfall for the city’s general tax fund.

Even though Charlotte Douglas is a city-owned and operated facility, any revenue the airport collects from new developments will be required to stay in the airport’s coffers. That’s because of Federal Aviation Administration rules against what’s known as “revenue diversion.”

“The FAA has a large concern about revenue diversion,” said Hair. Basically, federal rules forbid taking airport revenues (from parking, concessions or developments) and spending them on non-airport uses. So, for example, Charlotte can’t take money from the airport’s revenue stream and use it to pay for fire and police services in other parts of the city. Charlotte Douglas could spend money it makes from development activities on the airport itself – say, to expand, or to lower fees it charges to the airlines.

But Hair pointed out that Charlotte Douglas’ 2,000 acres currently aren’t subject to property taxes, since they’re public land owned by the city. New buildings developed on the land would be subject to property taxes, providing more revenue for the city in the long term. And jobs attracted to the site would also be a long-term boost to the city’s economy.

4. It’s going to take a long time – probably 20 years.

While the plans are sweeping, they will likely take decades to come to fruition. Hair said the timeline could change, and will be driven by market demand.

“The time element is flexible,” said Hair. MXD’s preliminary market analysis shows the area could absorb millions of square feet of warehouses, offices, hotel rooms and industrial space, under projections based on moderate economic growth. Those would change under low- or high-growth scenarios, and Hair said development could take as little as 15 years or much longer.

5. The airport isn’t the only one developing its land holdings – the River District is also on the way.

While the airport is moving to start development soon, another mega-development is set to start taking shape soon in west Mecklenburg County. Lincoln Harris and Crescent Communities won approval last month for the River District, which will transform almost 1,400 acres southwest of the airport in the city’s biggest new master-planned development since Ballantyne.

Over the next three decades, the River District is expected to bring millions of square feet of new office space, shops and restaurants, along with thousands of new residents, to the undeveloped land between Charlotte Douglas and the Catawba River.

With development picking up steam rapidly around Charlotte’s airport, expect to see more projects announced in the coming year.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo