May 22, 2017 - Business

Will land by Charlotte’s airport become a destination instead of a departure point?


Sarah Grano airport-overlook- cover

The city has spent the last two decades stockpiling land around Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Now Charlotte wants to spend the next two decades turning it into an economic driver.

Can you picture an attractive entertainment district, postmodern office buildings and a major hotel connected to the airport’s terminals?

That’s the sort of thing being pitched to the City Council by the consulting team hired in 2015 for nearly $1 million.

Their plan would carve the roughly 2,000 vacant acres around the airport into four districts and propose five “catalyst” projects to jump-start their development.

The City Council is going to be briefed Monday on progress on the development plan. Here’s where things stand. All images below are from the consultant’s report as prepared for Monday’s council meeting.

CLT Gateway

Let’s be honest, the area around the airport isn’t the prettiest. You’re generally jumping on the Billy Graham Parkway or Wilkinson Boulevard after leaving the terminal.

The city’s consultants envision a “front door” to Charlotte in the form of an entertainment district just north of the airport. Known as CLT Gateway, this is the sexiest part of the airport’s potential development.

Highlights would include a retail and dining village, craft brewery and beer garden, an automotive “test track” experience center and potentially a hotel and meeting center.

All this would, of course, be connected to the center city through the frequently discussed mass transit corridor along Wilkinson. That’s how you know this is a long-term vision rather than a short-term plan.

CLT South

The area to the south would be focused on industry sectors that rely on proximity to air travel — like transportation and logistics businesses, as well as aviation, automotive, and retail fulfillment.

The Norfolk Southern Intermodal Facility is already here and would be expanded.

CLT West

The plan envisions this area as a new business park and light industrial center. There would be a new connection to I-485 here and a new major road connecting this to the River District (also under development on this 20-year timeframe).

[Agenda story: A vision for the River District is coming together]

Somehow, the consultants view this as turning into a “walkable, urban, pedestrian friendly, and transit supportive area,” so I guess I’ll take their word for it.

Billy Graham corridor


Look for this area to get more quick-service retail, plus gas stations and convenience stores.

The consultants also want to brand this as a kind of “education corridor,” with classroom space and perhaps aerospace job skill training programs.

Why all the focus on western Mecklenburg County?

If you feel like developers are all focusing on this area, you’re right. That’s because it’s essentially Charlotte’s final frontier, as a developer once put it to me.

The city is largely fully built out on the north and east sides, and with Waverly and Rea Farms underway there’s basically no more land to the south either.

The River District envisions itself as being the next Ballantyne in two decades. Maybe that makes the airport land the next SouthPark?


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