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Aerotropolis update: where does the project stand?

From concept to completion, some things are years in the making--10, 20, 30 years and more.


A good idea with vast potential has to begin somewhere, and the Detroit Region aerotropolis is a concept whose time has definitely come.

An aerotropolis, or "airport city" as it is commonly referred to, isn't something new to the Detroit Region, the country or the world. An aerotropolis creates a world-class destination hub for airport transportation needs, including passenger travel, cargo logistics and related commercial, industrial and residential enterprises.

It is a 21st century new frontier but the idea of an "airport city" around Detroit Metro and Willow Run has been discussed since at least the 1990s. In the past few years, the concept has grown into a major initiative embraced by the local municipalities and two counties that surround the airports.

"As speed in the delivery of goods and services is defining where companies decide to locate, the aerotropolis is becoming an increasingly sought after location for logistics companies, regional headquarters, high technology firms and other businesses," said Wayne County CEO Robert Ficano.

What is finally getting the Detroit Region Aerotropolis off the ground? Besides the partnership among local governments, a public-private task force was created with the support of the nonprofit business. organization, Detroit Renaissance, which made the aerotropolis one of six initiatives in its Road to Renaissance agenda.

Armed with a Strategic Development Plan created by Chicago-based Jones, Lang, LaSalle, the aerotropolis partnership recently approached Lansing with a package of bills designed to attract air commerce firms to the region.

The legislation, which was introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives, would allow the aerotropolis to employ a range of tools for economic development including full tax abatements under the Renaissance Zone Act, refundable tax credits under the MEGA Act, tax increment districts resembling "Smart Zones" under the Local Development Financing Act, and the use of traditional real and personal property tax abatements under Acts 198 and 206.

"This legislation will give us the tools we need to make the Aerotropolis work, ultimately creating 50,000 to 60,000 new jobs over the next 10 to 15 years," according to Bob Guenzel, Washtenaw County administrator.

The partnering local and county governments are also creating an Aerotropolis Development Corporation, through an intergovernmental agreement. The Development Corporation will be charged with creating a sustainable development plan in order to market the region, attract businesses and streamline the regulatory processes.

"Together, the incentives and Aerotropolis Development Corporation will create a stronger environment for bringing the new development, jobs and income our region desperately needs," said Marsha Ennis, the Aerotropolis Program Director. "Momentum is definitely increasing."

The assets of the aerotropolis are unmistakable. Detroit is home to one of the best commercial airports in the world with direct service to more than 20 countries-something only a handful of airports in the United States can claim. Just eight miles to the east of Detroit Metropolitan is Willow Run Airport, one of the busiest on-demand cargo airports in North America, providing a vital link for moving time-sensitive automotive goods. Detroit's robust airport capacity is within 20 miles of the busiest border crossing in North America, along with vast developable land surrounding these airports.

"Detroit can be a major hub to the Midwest," said Doug Rothwell, President of Detroit Renaissance. "If we succeed, the aerotropolis promises to bring more travelers and visitors to our downtown areas and permanent residents to our state."

Geoff Young is project development specialist for Wayne County.
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Title Annotation:FEATURE
Author:Young, Geoff
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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