Saturday, February 18, 2017
Board hires consultant to strategize for airport
By Mark Belko
The Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette
With thousands of acres of land at its disposal, Pittsburgh International Airport wants to be ready should Ford, Uber or any number of spinoffs from the Shell cracker plant in Beaver County come calling.
The airport is asking a consultant to identify possible suitors and to make sure it’s getting the most bang for its buck when it comes to development.
“We’re no longer just trying to get people out here. We are now at the point where we’re in a desirable location. There’s a lot going on. Let’s make sure we get the most out of it because at the end of the day all of that revenue goes to lowering the cost of the airlines here,” said Christina Cassotis, Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO.
The authority board, which oversees Pittsburgh International, agreed Friday to spend up to $500,000 to hire Pittsburgh-based Civil & Environmental Consultants to prepare an economic market analysis and land development strategy.
Ms. Cassotis said the goal is to identify priority sites for development and to determine what companies it should be targeting to fill them.
Over the last 15 years, the authority has overseen the development of 3 million square feet of building space on land surrounding the airport. That’s less than a quarter of the 3,800 acres available.
Given the growing tech presence in the region including the efforts to develop self-driving cars, Shell’s decision to move ahead with the cracker plant in adjacent Beaver County, and even possible spin-offs from natural gas drilling taking place on airport property, the authority wants to make sure it is using the land it controls in the best possible way.
“The question is, are there ancillary industries that follow [the cracker plant] or may need to be in our location? We have to look at everything. I don’t want to limit us to what is happening in our literal backyard but what is happening overall in our economy,” Ms. Cassotis said.
Among the questions the authority wants answered, she said, are the types of businesses or industries that typically locate around a cracker plant and whether the airport should reserve land for such possibilities or take the deals that come along now.
One top location the consultant will look at is a 195-acre brownfield near the airport terminal that the authority wants to turn into a world trade center. It has said in the past that the land could be a “marquee site” for cracker-related development. Ms. Cassotis said Civil & Environmental Consultants will look at “who should be there.”
The authority, she added, has not reached out to Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based company that Ford is investing $1 billion in to develop a self-driving car.
Argo has hired the CBRE real estate firm to look for headquarters space in the region, although the most likely contenders are in the East End of the city or near Downtown.
Likewise, Uber, which is testing self-driving cars in the region, has concentrated most of its activity in the Strip District and Lawrenceville, and has developed a test track at the Almono site in Hazelwood.
Ms. Cassotis said it is far too early to reach out to those firms or any others the authority might target. She noted the cracker is not expected to be finished until 2020, giving the authority plenty of time to plot its strategy.
“We don’t want to rush through this. We want to do it right,” she said.
Revenue generated on authority-controlled land surrounding the airport is used to reduce the fees paid by the airlines to operate at Pittsburgh International.