Economic Development, Real Estate, and Travel & Tourism

Bidding begins for airport land

Gerald R. Ford International Airport looks to lease 800 acres of its property.

February 23, 2018
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Airport Property Development
This map indicates some of the available land for lease near the airport. The sites range in size from 200 acres to parcels as small as five acres. Courtesy Gerald R. Ford International Airport

There are more than 800 acres available for lease on Gerald R. Ford International Airport property.

Split into 16 parcels of varying sizes, the land is available for non-aeronautical use, including commercial purposes such as a business park, industrial site, or a tech or flex site, for example.

Some of the properties are “shovel-ready,” including one 109-acre parcel with utilities, roads, light poles and fire hydrants already in place. Other site sizes are 200 acres, 116 acres and some as small as five acres.

“If we have assets like property that we don’t immediately need for airport purposes … then we feel we have an obligation to partner with the community and make that property available,” said James Gill, the airport’s president and CEO.

He said the leasing will not interfere with aviation operations. “We’re always going to be an airport first,” he said.

However, knowing the land would otherwise be vacant, he said, “it’s really the right thing to do.”

At this point, airport officials are looking to fill the space with “highest and best-use” opportunities, the most appropriate tenants who will best contribute to the economy.

There are certain preferences or recommendations the airport has for certain parcels of land. Gill would prefer the space directly next to the airport building go to aeronautical-related companies, for example, such as maintenance.

But, he is open to pitches.

“If it’s the right ideal and it’s the right opportunity, we’re going to do it,” Gill said.

Alexander Peric, the airport’s chief operating officer, would be open to having a hotel on-site, and his “dream” is for one of the parcels to house a company headquarters.

One of the parcels was pitched to Amazon to house its future second headquarters, Gill said.

Peric and Gill worked at the Pittsburgh airport, which leased adjacent land for the headquarters of Dick’s Sporting Goods. The company had a hangar near its building that allowed senior staff to easily board a plane for international flights.

“We’ve done that,” Peric said. “It’s proven that that can happen on airport property.”

Ideally, the land will be leased to companies that will bring new jobs, such as an expanding company or one new to the region, Gill said.

This amount of land is a “big deal” for companies, the airport and the community, said Birgit Klohs, board member of the airport authority, as well as president and CEO of The Right Place, a West Michigan economic development organization based in Grand Rapids.

“The whole area around the airport is one of our major centers of employment, and the airport drives a lot of that employment,” she said, referring most specifically to Cascade, Caledonia, Kentwood and Gaines Township.

“That area of the county is going to continue to grow, and that 800 acres will play a big role in it,” Klohs said.

The leasing could lead to millions in development, she said.

And the more the economy around the airport grows, the more the airport grows along with it.

“It’s very much been a close relationship between the economy and the airport,” Gill said.

For Cascade Township, where all of this space for lease is located, the airport has been a “huge economic driver” and an “outstanding partner,” said Ben Swayze, the township manager, who has been involved in the airport’s master planning. The airport leasing this land will help grow the economy even more, he said.

“It really helps us as we’re looking to develop that area of the township,” Swayze said. When developments come along, that equates to more tax revenue for the township, he said.

The airport is not becoming a development business, Gill said — leasing the properties will provide “supplemental revenue” to help offset the cost of airport operations, maintenance and capital improvements.

Once the land is leased, it could “ultimately lower costs for the airlines,” Peric said.

Next, Peric is working to spread the word. He has been reaching out to developers to discuss the opportunities available.

A piece of that marketing happens through The Right Place, which uses business opportunities available through the airport as part of the portfolio when working to attract businesses to West Michigan, Gill said.

“In an urbanized county, to have that much land for development is a great asset,” Klohs said. “So, we are very keen on helping the airport market that property.”

So far, Gill said the airport has received a lot of phone calls about the properties.

“We’ve had some very positive discussions with a number of developers and companies who are looking to be located on the airport,” he said.

Finalizations have not yet been made, but he thinks one parcel may be spoken for. He hopes to finalize a deal and make an announcement within the next few months.

The land will be leased at market rates according to CFA standards, he said.

Once the airport’s master plan is finalized later this year, Gill would like to host a developer open house to present information and photos of available land.

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