With thousands of acres of land to spare, Denver International Airport is setting its sights on becoming what officials dub an "airport city"—an aerotropolis featuring logistics and trade facilities, hotels, retail, museums, schools and intermodal connections. The concept of an airport-oriented "city" is not new, but recently it has become a hot topic. Airports around the world are pondering ways to generate new revenue and revamp their public image from a departure point to be endured to a destination unto itself.
Memphis International Airport is an early example of the concept, with Fed-Ex as its anchor. However, officials envision airport cities that are not just logistics centers but virtual corporate headquarters and cities in their own right.
Large jets, globalization, tourism and the ever-increasing need for speedy delivery of goods and services are all factors that will spur the business model for carefully planned airport cities, said John Kasarda, the chairman of the "Airport Cities World Conference and Exhibition," held in Denver on April 25-27.
Noting that a third of total global trade—increasingly in the form of "perishables and light, high-tech products"—relies on airplanes, he calls airports the "fifth wave" of transportation-oriented development, after ports, canals, railroads and highways. Aviation Manager Kim Day says Denver International Airport's (DIA) master plan includes 16,000 acres for expansion, 8,700 acres for buffer and 94,000 acres for development, which will include facilities for biosciences, renewables, logistics, industrial, perishables and aeronautics.
Already under way, the $500-million south-terminal redevelopment will form one component of DIA's airport city, with a 500-room hotel to open in 2015 and a commuter rail station. The 25-mile corridor to downtown Denver will feature planned transit-oriented developments around future rail stations, Day adds. When the DIA was built in the 1980s, critics derided its 25-mile distance from downtown, Kasarda noted, adding, "It was actually forward-thinking."