Airport takes Chandler’s Economy to New Heights

Original Story via AZCentral.com

Chris Coppola, The Republic | AZCentral.com

A drive around the perimeter of the Chandler Municipal Airport amounts to a tour of things that have been, things that are and things that will be.

The airport itself, with more than 600 private, charter, transport and sightseeing flights each day on its two runways, can almost seem an afterthought with the explosion of commercial construction taking place around the facility. Couple that with planned  developments that have yet to break ground, and it adds up to about 2 million square feet  of commercial office space in an area that is competing with employment centers in Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa and even Chandler’s own Price Road Corridor as a major jobs generator in the Valley.

“This is really our final frontier in terms of employment corridors,” said Micah Miranda, Chandler’s economic-development director. “It’s probably one of the most active development areas in the Valley.”

The development activity around the airport, located southwest of Cooper and Germann roads, is only part of the airport’s economic influence.

Chandler Municipal Airport benefits

A study commissioned by the city estimates the direct and secondary benefit of the airport and the operations that take place on its property amount to about $109 million annually. This includes more than $32 million in annual revenue generated at the airport itself from flight activity, fees charged to park airplanes, an on-site service provider and flight schools, according to the study, conducted by Kimley-Horne, an engineering and environmental design firm, and Arizona State University.

The study also includes estimates of the spending in Chandler by visitors who fly into the airport for business or leisure and the payroll generated from about 800 jobs at the airport and its on-site businesses.

The airport was established at its current location around 1950 with an unpaved runway that handled mostly crop dusters. By the 1960s, as the city grew, the first paved runway was built.

The study results represent the first phase of what will be a two-part study costing $80,000. The second part will evaluate recommendations for the future of the airport, including ways to enhance its economic potential, said Chris Andres, the airport’s administrator. In doing so, the city hopes to eventually eliminate the annual need for the city to subsidize the airport operations with money from the general fund, which now amounts to about $250,000 annually.

“In the grand scheme of things, that $250,000 is leveraging $109 million in total economic activity,” he said, citing the report’s conclusion.

Several City Council members, during a recent presentation on the study’s findings, agreed the city should eventually find a way to eliminate the subsidy by maximizing the airport’s economic potential. Still, the council agreed the annual subsidy is more than worth it given the broader economic payback in the community, noting that sales taxes generated by airport activity are more than making up for the $250,000.

The study itself did not delve into the impact of construction around the airport, which is about a mile south of the Loop 202 freeway, another benefit.

New projects planned

However, a short drive around the facility’s perimeter tells the tale, as building shells take shape and land is set aside for projects already approved by the city. About 2 million square feet is either under construction or planned, Miranda said. Most are being built on speculation, designed to be leased by businesses that do not want to build their own facilities. Among them are:

  •  Metro Chandler Airport Center, with three buildings totaling 211,000 square feet under construction north of the airport along Germann Road.
  • Tiburon at Chandler Airport, with 81,000 square feet of flexible space for light industrial uses, under construction southeast of Germann and Cooper roads.
  • Mach One, a two-building development that will bring more than 200,000 square feet of commercial space northwest of Cooper and  Germann roads.
  •  Ascend at Chandler Airport Center, which will bring up to 400,000 square feet of office and light industrial space for lease northwest of Cooper and Germann roads.
  • Crown Castle, one of the nation’s largest providers of wireless infrastructure, which completed a 70,000-square-foot facility east of the airport property this year.
  • Wingspan has won approval to build an aviation center on the north side of the airport’s property, which will offer 250,000 square feet of combined office and hangar space. Ground is expected to break in 2016.
  • FedEx this month opened a massive ground transport center south of the airport.

Andres said construction around the airport suggests company decision-makers are looking for locations close to a municipal airport and freeway.

“Business aviation is a key part of a general aviation airport,” he said.

“We are competing with the Falcon Fields (in northeast Mesa) and other (general aviation) airports in the Valley,” he added.

He cited Scottsdale, Goodyear and and Phoenix’s Deer Valley airports as others in the mix for business travel and its related economic boost.

Looking ahead, the city hopes to determine whether the airport can add more to boost its attractiveness, noting that nearly 60 acres remain available for development on the property and much more on land that surrounds it.

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