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'Aerotropolis' concept explored

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Creating an "aerotropolis" around the Pittsburgh International Airport could be the next phase in efforts to drive economic development around the airport, officials said on Tuesday.

Allegheny County officials say they've had success in developing about a quarter of county-owned land around the airport and bringing in more than $1 billion in private investment.

The next step is to focus and coordinate development that will attract airport-related businesses, said Dennis Davin, director of economic development for Allegheny County.

"This area (around the airport) gives us the greatest opportunity to bring businesses in and grow the Southwest Pennsylvania region," Davin said as a two-day conference at Robert Morris University in Moon wrapped up.

The conference, hosted by Allegheny County, the Allegheny County Airport Authority and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, used the idea of an Aerotropolis to develop concepts for development around the airport in parts of Allegheny, Beaver and Washington counties.

The aerotropolis concept is a relatively new idea in community planning in which airports serve as the center for new cities that grow around them and connect workers and businesses to the world, according to John Kasarda, a University of North Carolina professor who was involved in the conference. Kasarda is the author of "Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next."

Passenger air travel is forecast to more than double between 2010 and 2029 and more world trade in high-value goods is being transported by air, said Donald Carter, a Carnegie Mellon University professor and director of the school's Remaking Cities Institute.

Those trends are making airports and the land around airports more important in global business, he said. The goal for Pittsburgh should be to attract airport-related businesses, such as logistics centers, light manufacturing, corporate headquarters and supporting industries, from outside the Pittsburgh region, Carter said.

"What we don't want to do is cannibalize someone else's development," he said.

Carter presented four models for development that officials could consider, including expanding office space on airport property for corporate headquarters and adding more retail and commercial areas that could be accessed by pedestrians from the terminal.

Area governments still need to decide whether the ideas presented yesterday are worth trying and then figure out how to cooperate on and fund specific projects.

Davin said he hopes that just talking about the idea will bring some positive marketing to Pittsburgh.

"The idea here is to create a buzz," he said.

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