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Mission: Aerotropolis

Connecticut officials see Bradley airport as hub of a major urban center

Brad Kane

June 06, 2011

Officials from the towns surrounding Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks want an aerotropolis in their future.

The term aerotropolis, popularized by University of North Carolina business professor John Kasarda, envisions major cities with airports at their center. Within a 20-mile radius, large-scale manufacturing industry, storage and distribution companies, commercial developments, residential housing and entertainment venues would all co-exist around the central hub with all roads leading to the airport.

The benefit to businesses is they and their workers could be located in close proximity to the airport, connecting them to the global community and cutting their transportation costs.

Atlanta already is developing its aerotropolis around its Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport — signing major companies such as Porsche to invest in the area — and other major cities such as St. Louis are weighing their aerotropolis options.

The aerotropolis plan is remarkably similar to what town officials surrounding Bradley have advocated for years: major highways, residential and commercial development, and better utilization of the airport as a major economic driver.

“For the aerotropolis to take off, we are going to need other linkages to the airport,” said Patrick McMahon, economic development director for Suffield.

In addition to transportation projects, the area around Bradley needs help recruiting businesses, completing housing projects and creating better autonomy with the airport operations, McMahon said.

The Connecticut General Assembly is working on laws that remove some of the barriers that have stifled growth at and around Bradley.

Last year, the legislature created the Bradley Development Zone — made up of parts of Windsor Locks, Suffield, Windsor and East Granby — that gives tax breaks to industries moving closer to the airport.

This year, Senate Bill 1003 transfers much of the major decision-making on Bradley operations away from the state Department of Transportation to an independent Connecticut Airport Authority, a move intended to remove the bureaucratic problems that has plagued the airport in the past.

“People are aware that the potential there is much greater than what has been realized,” said State Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, co-chair of the Commerce Committee.

Bradley has had a very difficult time keeping the key position of marketing and route development director, which works with area businesses to recruit new airlines and have existing airlines create new non-stop flights.

When the route development position became vacant in 2009, the better part of a year passed before the job was filled. That new employee, Luis Perez, lasted less than six months, exiting in December. The position hasn’t been filled for six months because of the issues created by DOT needing to approve major airport decisions.

“That is exactly the kind of problem we are trying to take care of (with the Connecticut Airport Authority),” LeBeau said. “We will not have the bureaucratic foul-ups that we’ve had in the past.”

When Kiran Jain worked as route development director at the airport, before she left in 2009, Bradley developed its last international non-stop destination, to Amsterdam. A good part of getting that flight was Jain working with the Connecticut and Western Massachusetts corporate community to ensure an airline would have steady business to and from Europe.

“We reached out to businesses and said, ‘Let’s see if we can work together on this,’ and ‘Where would you like to go?’” Bradley spokesman John Wallace said.

When Perez held the position from July to December, the airport added a new carrier — low-cost airline JetBlue — although that announcement was made before Perez took the position. Various carriers also added new routes to Washington, D.C., North Carolina, New York City and Milwaukee.

Since Perez left, Bradley hasn’t development any new routes or signed new airlines.

For a Bradley aerotropolis to become reality, the airport needs autonomy, especially for route development and development around the airport, McMahon said.

Commercial development and route development go hand-in-hand. The more the airport is used, the more locations airlines will fly to. The more direct destinations out of Bradley, the more the airport will be used.

The Bradley Development Zone has 1,900 acres that could be developed for businesses plus many more outside the zone, McMahon said. The towns will recruit any business that wants to be near the airport, but the target industries are distribution and logistics, financial services, and high-tech manufacturing.

With one-third of the U.S. economy within an eight-hour drive of Bradley, a key component of the aerotropolis will be further development of the transportation corridors, McMahon said.

“We have excellent highway access to the airport, but we have some transportation enhancements that would really improve circulation around the airport,” McMahon said.

Windsor wants better access between Day Hill Road and Interstate 91. East Granby is pushing for an extension of Bradley Park Road. The airport needs $20 million to put in two new service roads.

If the high-speed New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail project is ever complete, the airport will need a new bus route from the Windsor Locks station, McMahon said.

As far as housing the community of Bradley’s aerotropolis, the area will need more units. Windsor Locks is working toward its 130-apartment Governor’s Station development. Windsor will have 3,700 housing units if its Great Pond Village is complete, in addition to another 130 apartments proposed for the town.

“Hopefully, the economy starts to strengthen, and some of these projects around Bradley that are in the planning stages will take off,” McMahon said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
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