Raleigh-Durham International Airport has started planning for future development of over 2,000 acres that are outside of the operational area and are not planned for future air traffic services. The nonprofit consulting group Urban Land Institute sent nine visitors to the Triangle who spent a week interviewing 85 community leaders and examining uses for the excess land.
ULI recommends the airport develop a high-end business hotel, multi-purpose warehouse space, and an office campus with retail and restaurants, similar to Google’s campus in Silicon Valley. In the coming years, multifamily residential and office space expansion in the surrounding area is likely as well, much like the recent plans for development in Research Triangle Park.
One concern the airport will have to address before development is its environmental impact. Much of the excess property consists of wetlands and borders Umstead State Park. Jean Spooner, of the Umstead Coalition, said she had “a slight concern” about developing Lake Crabtree County Park, which is on a short-term lease by the county and laced with recreational trails.
John Brantley, former airport director for 29 years, warned that putting a hotel and car-rental offices close to the passenger terminal would generate too much automobile traffic. “From the car rental standpoint, instead of a few buses carrying a lot of people, it’s essentially every car going right into the midst of your highest-traffic activity,” he said.
ULI Survey Leader John Walsh said that while RDU has better highway access than most airports in its class, nearly every community leader interviewed had concerns about congestion. “You can’t stop the half a million people that are going to move here in the next 15 years,” says Walsh. “Transit and transportation must be a guiding principal to everything we do.”
Air passenger traffic is expected to grow much more slowly than the Triangle economy, so it’s no wonder that the RDU is looking to rely on other arenas for revenue. According to the FAA, airports around the country earned about 45 percent of their revenues from outside sources like parking and retail vendors.
ULI’s final written report will be submitted to the authority board in 90 days. This is “day one” of a process that could easily take up to a decade or more, according to RDU Director Mike Landguth. “Our primary mission is still delivering the air service for this community,” he said. “We’re not going to lose sight of that.”