With the opening of Terminal 1 this spring, RDU will be completing what I like to call the big dig. After nearly 20 years of almost non-stop construction, RDU will have in place the infrastructure to support our region’s air service needs for the next 20 to 25 years.
So what is next? While many opportunities are ahead for RDU, one area we have taken a closer look at is responsible land use and development. The Airport Authority owns nearly 5,000 acres. While much of this land is used for aeronautical purposes, we have about 2,000 acres that could be used for other purposes.
Why does RDU want to develop its land? Because it is in our best interests to identify ways to leverage our property to generate revenue. Over the past 10 years, the aviation industry has changed. That, in fact, is an understatement. Airports can no longer depend upon airlines as their sole source of revenue. Therefore, it is important for RDU to identify ways to generate revenue apart from airline activity.
RDU and the Urban Land Institute
To assist us with our land use planning, we invited the Urban Land Institute to take a look at our property and answer the following question: How should RDU responsibly use its land that won’t be needed for aeronautical purposes in a way that benefits the region, provides additional long-term revenue and complements the operation of the airport?
Last week, ULI began answering this question for us. The panel began by interviewing more than 80 elected officials, business leaders, friends of the park system, economic developers and former board members. It was very important to us that our community partners be involved in this process because their ideas and input will be very important future airport development.
One of ULI’s key recommendations: stay true to the our vision to deliver a world-class airport experience and our mission to deliver excellent airport services, facilities and unparalleled customer service. The folks at ULI told us that the vision and mission should be experienced by our customers from the minute they drive onto airport property. This means that all development should in some way complement the already world-class facilities and services RDU offers.
The panel also made recommendations ranging from the construction of warehouse facilities to a hotel in close proximity to the terminals. It also reiterated what we have known for some time that the airport will be an important part of any discussion on public transit.
RDU’s Next Steps
So what are the next steps? We will receive a written report from ULI in approximately 90 days. From there, staff will begin going through the report and looking closely at the panel’s recommendations.
Will we build a hotel on airport property? It’s too soon to tell. But it is important to note that nothing will happen overnight. Any land development project the airport undertakes will take time. From conception to opening, for example, Terminal 2 took nearly 10 years. The development of land will also be a long process; one that will involve more analysis and close collaboration with our community partners.