As smaller airports evolve, so too does their role in the community. Once they take on economic development projects, that role shifts even further.
On Thursday, officials who operate the Greater Lehigh Valley’s flagship airport shared news about their development plans for the next 25 years, including efforts to develop nearly 300 acres of land near the airport.
With “A Flight into the Future with ABE,” a program hosted by Commercial Real Estate Women Network Lehigh Valley, officials provided details on the airport authority’s master plan along with plans to add a hotel and retail establishments at the airport.
The program, which took place on the second floor terminal at Lehigh Valley International Airport in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, gave people a chance to learn about how the airport has taken on a more active role in economic development initiatives.
“We spent a lot of time and resources investing in the customer experience,” said Darren Betters, director of business development for the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority.
However, the airport authority is also working on projects that will set the organization up for future revenue streams, he said. It wants to build a hotel with upscale restaurants on its property and establish an agreement with Majestic Realty to develop hundreds of acres across from the airport.
The potential hotel and restaurants site is on Airport Road, an old terminal next to the relatively new intermodal center.
To market the property and secure a developer, the airport authority enlisted the help of Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate firm with a local office in Hanover Township, Northampton County.
“There’s certainly still demand here for more hotel rooms,” Betters said. “We’ve got the property where we think it makes sense.”
Airport officials will seek outside help with some of these economic development projects, hiring firms that have expertise in these areas, according to Betters.
Also, receiving federal and state dollars for projects helps the authority determine which projects become a priority, said Ryan Meyer, director of planning and programming for the LNAA.
“It is a balance between maintaining what we have and taking advantage of business opportunities,” Meyer said.
With passenger traffic showing consistent growth and the airport adding recent service enhancements, officials are focusing also on planning for the coming decades to ensure the airport continues improving.
As an example, the airport authority’s master plan, still in draft form, shows not only reconstruction projects planned for the next five years, but also other projects in spans of six to 10 years, 11 to 22 and 23 to 25 years out. The demand driven by passenger traffic as well as general aviation and cargo activity are some of the main factors that would determine what gets built and when. Beyond the five-year outlook, other projects call for such items as expansion of cargo facilities and hangar construction.
“Really, there is a phased approach to what we are doing,” Meyer said. “Everything we do, we are sensitive to the impacts. We want to make sure we are as community-oriented as we can in development.”
Though the plan looks ahead to the next 25 years, the airport authority has no plan to build a third runway. However, work will begin this month on The Runway 6/24 rehabilitation, the airport’s main runway.