The developer behind a number of industrial properties in Bethlehem became the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority’s top choice for transforming nearly 300 acres of airport-owned land into new space that could incorporate office, retail and industrial uses.
After its executive board meeting Wednesday morning, the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority said it selected Majestic Realty of Bethlehem as the developer it would collaborate with in negotiating development plans for 297 acres of flight path property. The flight path property is across from Lehigh Valley International Airport along Airport Road near the intersection with Schoenersville Road in Hanover Township, Lehigh County.
Aside from Majestic, the airport authority interviewed two other real estate developers on Wednesday: J.G. Petrucci of Hanover Township, Northampton County, and Matrix Development Group of Monroe Township, N.J.
Majestic, headquartered in Southern California, has an office in Majestic Bethlehem Center, a business park it owns on former Bethlehem Steel property.
Mike Dowd, airport authority chairman, said the process in choosing a developer had been a long one, about 18 months, beginning with 10 developers who responded to requests for proposals.
Majestic’s proposal would fit with existing industrial zoning regulations and would include smaller buildings, something Dowd said was “really good” about the company’s plan.
“Majestic came up with the most thorough response,” he said.
Though it is unknown what types of specific uses the buildings would comprise, Dowd said, the township does not want big box warehouses. The plan could include several buildings in a small office park, with the potential for light manufacturing and assembly, retail and restaurants. It could look similar to the business parks found in Lehigh Valley Industrial Park, which owns several industrial parks in the region that include office, manufacturing, logistics and warehousing uses.
“I think the best model for that would be the LVIP model,” Dowd said. “Multi-uses, certainly. … If you look at the footprint of LVIPII, five-, seven-acre sites, flexible buildings,” Dowd said. “If I look at the strength of the Lehigh Valley, it’s small industry.”
The airport authority is not looking to sell the land to Majestic.
“Our original proposal was to enter into a partnership,” Dowd said. “I think we are looking to be a long-term partner.”
The authority is seeking a long-term lease, possibly for more than 20 years, which would be determined in negotiations, said Thomas Stoudt, interim director of the airport authority.
“Instead of a one-time cash transaction, this could be recurring payments under a lease program,” Stoudt said.
The airport authority also wants to make sure Majestic is in compliance with township zoning regulations, Dowd said. While Dowd did not disclose specifics of Majestic’s plan, he said it did address stormwater and other sensitive issues.
The land is agricultural, farmed by an independent worker who serves as a contractor for the airport authority, Stoudt said.
The property would not continue as agricultural use once development moves forward.
Dowd estimated negotiations with Majestic would go for 60 to 90 days.
The first step is the negotiation, and then Majestic would return to the airport authority for approval of its plan, Stoudt said. From there, the project would need various approvals, including those from the township as well as the state Department of Transportation.
Dowd said there is always the possibility that the developer could back out.
However, he remained optimistic, noting that the airport authority has a fiduciary responsibility to keep LVIA operating and successful.
Stoudt said he was confident the airport authority would reach an agreement with Majestic.
Majestic Realty did not return requests for comment.