A rumor recently surfaced that the Airport Authority was going to close Lake Crabtree County Park, which has become a favored spot for boating, hiking and picnicking. But it is just that. A rumor. The Airport Authority has no plans to close Lake Crabtree County Park. However, there are other parcels of airport-owned land that may be suitable for future airport development.
The Airport Authority owns nearly 5,000 acres of land, almost 2,000 of which will never be used for aeronautical purposes. For this reason, the Airport Authority wanted to know how it could responsibly develop this land. To answer this question, we commissioned the Urban Land Institute (ULI) of Washington, D.C. to conduct an in-depth study of these parcels.
The ULI Study
The ULI panel studied five parcels of land. Early on, the airport ruled out Lake Crabtree County Park as an area for development. It did however include in the study a parcel located between I-40 and the park. It is this 149-acre tract that ULI identified as a possible location for office space. This recommendation came after the panel interviewed 80 community leaders and government officials from our region.
The Airport Authority leased this parcel to Wake County in conjunction with a local mountain bike group, which develops and maintains bike paths on the property. During its presentation to the Airport Authority board, ULI noted that the parcel would be attractive to businesses in part because of the bike trails and its proximity to Lake Crabtree County Park.
This is where the recommendation stopped. It is now up to the airport to determine if or when it will pursue ULI’s suggestions.
Why is the Airport Authority considering developing land it owns that will not be used for aeronautical purposes? The answer is simple. Like airports across the country, RDU can no longer depend upon airline activity, the passenger facility charge and federal grants to pay for major airport projects. As a result, we must find new ways to generate revenue that will allow us to maintain and develop the world-class facilities our region has come to expect.
Even though there are no current development plans for the 149-acre parcel adjacent to the park, we must allow ourselves the flexibility to develop this parcel when and if we decide to. For this reason, the Airport Authority is renegotiating its lease.
The Bottom Line
Lake Crabtree County Park is an important part of our region’s fabric, and the airport has no plans to develop it. At RDU we are committed to developing our land in a way that benefits not only the airport but also our region. However, we will continue to study other parcels, including the area adjacent to the park, as part of our future airport development.