Land Here, Take Off: Aerotropolis Atlanta Business and community leaders strive to make airport area a relocation destination
Supported by investors and community leaders from a number of Atlanta area Fortune 500 companies, Aerotropolis Atlanta was formed to make sure the necessary infrastructure is in place to create a vibrant community around Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Aerotropolis Atlanta is a merger of the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance, a nonprofit member organization and coalition of leading business and community leaders. The Aerotropolis Atlanta Community Improvement Districts (CIDs), the public-private partnership organizations serving 15 square miles of property around the airport, are made up of commercial, industrial and office property owners who volunteer to self-tax themselves an additional millage in order to fund various projects.
Formed in 2014, the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance is committed to making Aerotropolis Atlanta a world-class destination for business, connectivity and living. It is governed by a 26-member board of the district’s top private sector leaders, local mayors, county commissioners and chambers of commerce. Its mission is to improve and sustain the quality of life for those who live, work and play there, and leaders aim to accomplish this goal through a comprehensive approach to planning and development that includes initiatives to enhance public safety, improve the physical environment and strengthen the urban amenities that give the area its unique character — the most important of which is the world’s busiest airport.
Joseph S. Folz, vice president, general counsel and secretary of Porsche Cars North America and one of the founding board members and former chair of the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance, says the alliance was the dream of Chairman Eldrin Bell when he led the Clayton County Board of Commissioners. “He realized that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport could be the biggest economic driver of the region — indeed of the entire southeastern U.S. — and wondered how to begin using the airport as a driver of economic development using all the undeveloped and undervalued land around it, and the underemployed workforce of the south metro area.”
Bell’s cause was taken up by the Atlanta Regional Commission. “ARC’s visionary leader Doug Hooker made contact with me as soon as word got out that Porsche was looking at property adjacent to the airport,” Folz says. “Doug realized that if the airport area could attract a new marquee brand — joining such fabulous companies as Delta Air Lines and Chick-fil-A that already were in the area — maybe the critical mass had started to form.”
The Aerotropolis Atlanta CIDs were formed in 2016 when leaders in the Airport West CID in Fulton County and the Airport South CID in Clayton County united to seek additional member properties to further expand their efforts to create an economically strong, safe, attractive and vibrant community surrounding Hartsfield-Jackson. The group leverages the financial contributions of members to secure federal, state and local resources to plan and deliver substantial infrastructure updates.
Gerald McDowell, executive director of the Aerotropolis Atlanta CIDs, says, “Aerotropolis Atlanta is the name we are using to rebrand the airport area. These are two separate, independent organizations working together for this effort. The alliance is the nonprofit side of things and CIDs are the public/private partnership. … The alliance identifies different initiatives that would help improve the area and the CIDs execute the plan by pursuing the projects and working with state agencies such as the Georgia Department of Transportation or Atlanta Regional Commission to execute the projects.”
Soaring Toward A Better Community
The first objective of Aerotropolis Atlanta is to unify various jurisdictions that surround the airport and have county and city leaders meet on a regular basis to pursue a common goal of improving the airport area. Counties involved in the initiative include Fulton, Clayton, Henry and Douglas. Cities include Atlanta, Hapeville, College Park, East Point, Riverdale, Union City, Morrow, Lake City, Forest Park and Fairburn.
Two main goals of Aerotropolis Atlanta are beautification and public safety. A landscape maintenance company is under contract to make sure the streets in the area are well-kept, right of ways are mowed, trash is picked up and unauthorized signage is removed. “Beautification is a top priority of keeping the area green and clean,” McDowell says, adding that this also includes landscaping. There are 15 different interchanges in the area that over the next five years the organization plans to upgrade with fencing, lighting and public art so that residents and visitors will know they have entered the Aerotropolis Atlanta area. The CIDs hired a full-time public safety director who works with all of the police departments in these jurisdictions on a monthly basis. They also have 24-7 private security patrols.
“The beautification and public safety programs go hand in hand because we want to communicate to the general public that this is an area that is well-kept and very safe to live, conduct business in and visit for entertainment and recreation, including shopping,” says McDowell.
When looking for a new place to call home, McDowell says, it’s important to live in a safe and maintained community. “This puts out the welcome mat and allows potential and future residents to see that in south metro Atlanta there are some great communities, schools and amenities, but if we don’t also have a community that is also clean and safe, it will make it very difficult for those future residents to see that.”
He adds that Aerotropolis Atlanta is an important entity for the south metro area because for so long the region’s primary focus has been Downtown Atlanta and the north metro area. “South metro has been an area that has kind of been overlooked, but we have an opportunity now to be a part of this process of creating a community with some strategic and intentional plans to make sure that as south metro grows, we don’t have issues in terms of traffic congestion and other challenges that are created when you have a large number of people moving into an area,” McDowell says. “It’s a very exciting time to be a part of the team to make sure the necessary infrastructure is in place and that these strategic plans are being executed to created a vibrant community for folks to consider when they are looking for a place to live in metro Atlanta.”
Corporate Leaders Invest in the Future
Representatives from a number of Fortune 500 companies — Porsche Cars North America, Delta Air Lines, Duke Realty and Chick-fil-A — all of which have headquarters in south metro Atlanta serve on the boards and CIDs.
“These companies have made investments in this area and being involved with the alliance and the CIDs is a way of protecting their investment and ensuring that there is sustained and smart growth that will take place over the next few years in an area where they have located their headquarters,” McDowell says. “That is true also for the other companies and businesses that have gotten involved with the alliance and CIDs. It’s to make sure that the return on the investment that is being made produce a very vibrant community for families to consider.”
“Chick-fil-A is committed to being a good corporate citizen in the Aerotropolis area where our Support Center is located.” – Vance Burgess, Chick-fil-A
Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy opened his first restaurant, the Dwarf Grill, in Hapeville in 1946 because of its proximity to Delta’s headquarters and the former Ford plant, says Vance Burgess, senior director of the company’s legal department.
“The restaurant was an immediate success serving the employees of these two companies and the local community in the airport area,” he says. “Chick-fil-A’s first corporate headquarters was located on Virginia Avenue, and after outgrowing this facility, Chick-fil-A relocated its headquarters, now called the Support Center, a few miles south of the airport. Our corporate staff travel regularly all over the country to support our local restaurants, making our proximity to the airport a significant benefit for our frequent flyers.”
Burgess says Chick-fil-A supports the local communities in which it serves and shares the same beliefs when it comes to corporate headquarter locations. “Chick-fil-A is committed to being a good corporate citizen in the Aerotropolis area where our Support Center is located,” he adds. “The primary purposes of the CIDs and the alliance are to improve the infrastructure of the Aerotropolis area and to encourage economic development in the area. We have already seen tremendous benefits right outside our front gates, including road and landscaping improvements along Buffington Road, along with beautification and signage projects that are just getting started.”
He encourages companies thinking about relocating to metro Atlanta to consider the south metro area. “We would remind these companies, especially those with frequent travelers, to consider the burdens of heavy traffic in other parts of Atlanta and how these negative impacts can be largely avoided by locating to the airport area,” Burgess says. “We would also point out that the land values are much more affordable than other parts of Atlanta, that the area is very accessible from many wonderful residential communities and that College Park, just to name one of the communities, has not only a first-class convention center and many fine hotels for corporate functions and travelers, but also a MARTA rail line for quick and convenient access.”
Porsche announced the site of its new North American headquarters in 2011. Shortly thereafter, Hooker asked for a meeting with Folz about the alliance and by 2012 had assembled a group of like-minded individuals representing a wide range of interests — corporations, landowners and public officials. “We realized we all had been waiting for something to jump-start development in the airport area, and that those of us who were committed to the area had a great story to tell.”
Folz “absolutely” believes a company or individual relocating to metro Atlanta would benefit from knowing the progress in and around the airport. “In a world where all business is global, you can’t even calculate the benefit of being near the best transportation asset in the world. Without the information and support that the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance can provide, it might be easy for a business to decide that the airport area is just too difficult, that our airport like so many is just a place to get into and out of as quickly as possible, and they might hear (as Porsche did) that the south side just wasn’t the place to be. We are determined to make sure that everyone considering Atlanta knows what is happening here and why — as for Porsche — it could be the perfect place.”
Porsche’s contribution to the growth around Hartsfield-Jackson includes building its first Porsche Experience Center outside Europe across the fence from Hartsfield-Jackson. The automaker originally budgeted for 25,000 visitors annually, but in 2016 they welcomed more than 40,000 visitors. “These people came from almost every state and from several other countries. It was easy for them to come to us because you can fly to Atlanta directly from over 250 places, and because 80 percent of the U.S. population can fly here in under two hours,” Folz says. “These people are eating in the area, visiting other attractions in the area and staying in the area. Later this year, right next door to our Experience Center, the new Solis Hotel will open, the first and only luxury hotel property south of Downtown and on the east side of the airport.”
“We are determined to make sure that everyone considering Atlanta knows what is happening here and why — as for Porsche — it could be the perfect place.” – Joseph S. Folz, Porsche Cars North America
Georgia Power has also been involved with the alliance since its inception in 2014. Pedro Cherry, executive vice president of customer service and operations at Georgia Power, is chairman of the board of directors for the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance.
His vision for Hartsfield-Jackson and the Aerotropolis area involves a transformation from primarily a place of transit to a preferred destination for the more than 100 million people who pass through on a yearly basis. “I truly believe that companies and individuals relocating to Atlanta would benefit from the progress that’s being made in the area, and for many reasons,” Cherry says. “We have fantastic access to three major interstates. We have five MARTA stations to help us connect to jobs and neighborhoods throughout the region.”
Cherry says Georgia Power’s involvement aligns with its motto of being “a citizen wherever we serve.” “Our involvement provides an opportunity to support capacity building in the communities immediately around the airport,” he says. “It also allows us to engage in planning and development to leverage the unique and abundant assets represented by Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Having someone on the board allows us to support regional partnerships and initiatives.”
As alliance board chair, Cherry helps the group establish a vision and mission for the organization and ensure that appropriate actions, plans and resources are in place for the organization to achieve its goals. He also helps recruit other members and investors to assist with growing the alliance as it makes a positive impact on south metro Atlanta.
“The existence and work of the alliance is helping to promote area assets, and thus improve the commonly held image and perception of the south metropolitan area. No one can dispute that for well over half a century Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has been an amazing catalyst for economic development for the City of Atlanta, our region, the State of Georgia and the entire Southeast United States,” Cherry says. “Yet, in the area immediately surrounding the airport proper, broad economic success hasn’t taken hold. Sure, there are some vibrant businesses, restaurants and homes, but historically, the area has underperformed most of the other submarkets in metro Atlanta.”
Cherry adds that unemployment rates are consistently higher and median incomes are lower. “Generally, this part of the region has been overlooked by site selectors, consultants and business leaders considering Atlanta for relocations, expansions and investment,” he says. “Our aim is to focus a spotlight on this part of our region, feature the amazing assets and opportunities we have, tell the stories of our neighboring cities and neighborhoods and raise the profile of Aerotropolis Atlanta.”
Get on Board: Cities Near the Airport
For decades, this city of just over 16,000 residents has been referred to as “base housing” by many airline and airport employees. The city, situated due south of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Highway 314, is a straight-shot from the airport to the local shops and restaurants located in downtown Fayetteville. For many airport workers, Fayette’s top-performing school system is a major draw. As the largest entertainment studio complex outside of Los Angeles, Pinewood Atlanta Studios selected the city for its North American headquarters.
Located just 10 minutes from Hartsfield-Jackson, the city of more than 20,000 residents directly supports the cargo sector of the airport through the current and planned development of multiple distribution facilities and warehouses. City leaders are working diligently to grow its hospitality sector to better support the airport with more restaurants and hotels. Union City also offers industrial and commercial parcels from three to 500 acres at affordable rates for companies seeking to expand.
A growing city within minutes of the airport, Stockbridge has exceptional local, regional and global access with exits on both Interstates 75 and 675. Served by both Piedmont Henry Hospital and a Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Urgent Care Center, the city is a regional leader in medical services. With approximately 28,000 residents, the city offers an abundance of trails, parks, recreational and community opportunities, including the Merle Manders Conference Center and Eagle’s Landing Country Club.
As the largest city in Fayette County with almost 35,000 residents, Peachtree City has benefitted from easy access to Atlanta’s airport since its earliest days and continues to add new homes that are popular with airline employees. Home to Atlanta Regional Airport at Falcon Field, which anchors the city’s industrial park and serves both corporate jets and the private planes of area flying enthusiasts, including many active and retired commercial pilots, the community is almost as famously rooted in aviation as it is for its golf cart culture. “It’s a city built on golf carts,” Harris Blackwood, director of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, told the New York Times in March.
The Fulton County city of East Point, with its more than 35,000 residents, plays a major role in supporting economic strategies of the alliance. A few exciting projects underway that will have tremendous economic impact around the airport include Mallalieu Pointe, a mixed-use development project in downtown East Point; Arden’s Garden, a manufacturing, retention and expansion project of the fresh juice and smoothie company’s headquarters; and construction of a 260,000-square-foot facility for Americold Inc., a cold storage company that supports Sprouts Farmer’s Market.
New Development in Aerotropolis Atlanta
- A multi-phase $41 million transit-oriented development located at the corner of Harvard and Princeton avenues in College Park. The Pad on Harvard’s 109-unit deluxe apartment complex, 50,000 square feet of retail space and 136-room Aloft hotel will rise just 400 feet from the College Park MARTA Station and across the street from Hotel Indigo.
- Positioned adjacent to the Georgia International Convention Center near downtown College Park, The Gateway Center is a $230 million mixed-use project, including one Class A office building and two hotels, as well as the under-construction Renaissance Hotel. It is connected to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and MARTA via the ATL Skytrain.
- Hartsfield-Jackson is planning to develop a mixed-use development, including a 4-star InterContinental hotel, Class A office space and travel plaza adjacent to the airport’s main domestic terminal and MARTA station.
- Formerly Fort Gillem, Gillem Logistics Center is a 1,168-acre, world-class regional distribution park redevelopment that could accommodate more than 8 million square feet of industrial and distribution facilities. The Kroger Company recently developed a 1 million-square-foot regional distribution center.
- Porsche Cars North America located its headquarters and the Porsche Experience Center at One Porsche Drive, a 26.4-acre site development. It is home to 400 employees, a Technical Service and Training Center and industry-first Customer Experience Center with a test track and road course.
- Developed by Capella Hotel Gropu and ACRON, Solis Hotel will be located at Two Porsche Drive, immediately adjacent to the Porsche center and headquarters.
- The former army installation Fort McPherson redevelopment proposal includes a major film studio, office, commercial and residential uses, and preserving a large historic district that dates back to the late 1800s. The site is anchored by two MARTA stations and connected to the southern tip of the Atlanta BeltLine.