“The U.S. and Western Europe often view airports as nuisances and environmental threats rather than as critical infrastructure to compete and prosper. This has resulted in their maligning and neglecting airports while Asia and the Middle East invest heavily to leverage them. Such neglect comes at the long-term economic peril of the West.”
The above statement was made by John Kasarda, who is considered the developer of the aerotropolis concept. Kasarda calls airports “powerful economic engines” that can attract all types of aviation-linked businesses. In 2011, Time called Aerotropolis “One of the Ten Ideas that Will Change the World.”
The Front Porch interviewed Kasarda in January 2012, and Kasarda said he views DIA as an ideal candidate airport for the first U.S. aerotropolis built from the ground up. With 53 square miles of land surrounding it, DIA is the third-largest international airport in the world (in land area). Kasarda added, “The City of Denver must get their planning of an aerotropolis right. If there is not appropriate planning, airport-area development will be haphazard, economically inefficient, and unsustainable.”
What has happened with aerotropolis planning in the past year and a half to take advantage of this “powerful economic engine” in far NE Denver?
The short answer is that all parties involved in aerotropolis planning must come to agreement before the plan can move forward—and that hasn’t happened yet. Because the potential for revenue and economic development is so great, negotiations between Denver and Adams County are moving slowly, with both parties’, of course, taking seriously their responsibility to represent their constituents. The big difficulty in finding agreement on a mutually beneficial plan lies in differing interpretations of the 1988 intergovernmental agreement (IGA) signed when Denver annexed 53 square miles of Adams County land to build DIA.
In early May, Adams County sent a letter to Denver stating that Denver had agreed in the IGA not to develop the annexed land in a way that would compete with more distant Adams County developments. They also requested that Denver propose a sharing of tax revenues that would benefit Adams County.
However they pointed out that airports around the nation and globally are moving forward quickly. “If we fail to develop an economically sustainable and mutually dependent regional plan, we will fall behind.” In a subsequent letter (May 31) Denver proposed a special district that would impose a mill levy on projects on or around airport property and use the revenue to pay for public infrastructure in an off-airport area in Adams County, Aurora, Commerce City and Denver.
Adams County rejected the proposal and responded that Denver must strictly adhere to restrictions in the IGA. In response to a request from the Front Porch for the specific clauses in the IGA that Adams County thinks Denver is violating, they referred to a clause that specifies that airport land can be used only for purposes that are directly related to the operation of the airport and a clause that states “Denver shall take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that no other use of the new airport site occurs.”
In a June 7 letter to Denver, Adams County wrote that other than direct operations of the airport, “The IGA requires all economic development around DIA to take place on Adams County land.” They further stated that if the annexed property ceased to be used “only for aviation purposes,” the Annexation Agreement called for the land to revert to Adams County. A separate letter on June 7 said, “We demand that Denver stop its planning efforts to develop airport property in a manner that would violate the IGA…the annexed land must be returned to Adams County in order for such development to take place on the airport property.”
Evan Dreyer, senior advisor to the mayor, believes Adams County’s statement about de-annexing is a bargaining position—not a serious counter proposal. Amber Miller, press secretary for Mayor Hancock released the following statement: “We are in discussions with our regional partners and hope these will continue to be productive conversations about how we can all move forward with a mutually beneficial plan. Denver’s goal is to work with our neighbors to create a regional infrastructure plan and economic development plan that foster major economic growth in the region.”
Although Adams County commissioner Chaz Tedesco says, “The airport city, right now, is a violation of the IGA,” he also says, “I’m willing to have a conversation to air those topics,” and that they are working on scheduling that conversation.
For more information about Denver’s Aerotropolis concept visit AirportCityDenver.com
For more Adams County information visit http://storify.com/adamscountygov/giving-flight-to-dia-the-historical-pact-between-d.