DALLAS – As Denver and its suburbs prepare to connect Denver International Airport to the local transportation network through a bond-funded commuter rail line, the cities and counties are also sketching plans for an “aerotropolis” that will link DIA to major airports around the world.
The aerotropolis concept developed by University of North Carolina professor John D. Kasarda has been adopted by cities with airports on the fringes of major urban areas.
The idea is to develop an airport city that has all the services and facilities it needs to join a network of other airports around the world.
An aerotropolis in Denver might be just as well connected to one in Dubai with very little interaction between the airports themselves and the host cities.
With more undeveloped land than is available at most airports, Denver’s plan involves 1,287 acres of mixed-use development known as “Porteos” or “DIA 1287.”
“DIA 1287 is essentially adjacent to DIA’s cargo area and proposed future cargo-oriented runway, making air logistics its unique value proposition,” Kasarda wrote in a research paper on the site. “Air cargo development at DIA should be very bright.”
How much public investment might be required at the Denver site has not been pinpointed, but Denver is taking steps toward that with acceptance of a $500,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration for planning the project.
The city will match that grant with $125,000 of its own funding.
While Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is hoping to take the lead in guiding the project, Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan told The Denver Post that Aurora, Adams County and Commerce City have had an aerotropolis plan for years.
“My hope would be that any effort that goes forward under this new grant would first of all respect the work that has already been done by the Adams County jurisdictions,” Hogan said. “That work wasn't done unilaterally by any of the three jurisdictions. If I had a request, the focus of the new grant would be, in some sense, what needs to be done to supplement the already existing plans.”
Aurora has already annexed the Porteos site, which has 1.5 miles of common frontage along DIA to the north. The site is also accessible by the E-470 high-speed toll road that wraps around the eastern perimeter of the Denver Metro area.
While Denver built DIA, the city had to annex land in Adams County to the northeast and reach agreements with nearby Aurora and Commerce City to develop the site.
Adams County Commissioner Charles Tedesco said any statement about the planning around the federal grant would be premature but that the county plans to share any information on the project through the Airport Coordinating Committee that was created in 1988 to resolve land-use issues between the counties and cities affected by the airport. DIA opened in 1995.
In January, the Airport Coordinating Committee called for the formation of a six-member consultation committee to attempt to negotiate with Denver about the aerotropolis that it called “Airport City.”
“We want to do everything we can to ensure the entire region can benefit,” said Adams County Commissioner Erik Hansen, chair of the Airport Coordinating Committee. “The IGA is an enforceable agreement that represents a partnership, and we need to make sure all the partners gain a significant benefit; not just one jurisdiction at the expense of the others.”
Some elements of the aerotropolis are already underway, including construction of an airport hotel that will sit atop a commuter rail station linking DIA to downtown Denver.
Last month, the city sold $720 million in airport system subordinate revenue bonds for the so-called South Terminal Project that includes the hotel and rail depot.
The bonds, rated A by Standard & Poor’s and A2 by Moody’s Investors Service, drew an all-included yield of 4.94.
Denver chief financial officer Cary Kennedy said she was pleased with the results of the sale, given recent turmoil in the bond market.