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College Park moves toward 'aerotropolis' status

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

About a year away from the groundbreaking for two hotels, College Park authorities have signed an agreement moving forward with the initial construction of a $250 million mixed-use facility.

The project will help College Park become an "aerotropolis," says City Manager William E. Johnson, III.

The idea of an aerotropolis was developed by John Kasarda, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill professor, who also coined the turn.

"Airports are no longer simply places where airplanes land and passengers and cargo transit," Kasarda wrote in 2006. "Major airports are beginning to drive business and urban development in the 21st century, much as highways did in the 20th, railroads in the 19th, and seaports in the 18th.

An aviation-oriented business cluster at and near major airports, a new urban entity is emerging: the Aerotropolis. Similar in shape to the traditional metropolis of a central city and its commuter-heavy suburbs, the Aerotropolis consists of an airport city core and an outlying area of businesses stretching fifteen miles along transportation corridors. Aerotropolis are emerging because of the advantages airports provide to business in the new speed-drive, globally networked economy."

During a joint meeting last month between the College Park City Council and the city's Business and Industrial Development Authority, officials authorized the construction of a 400-room, headquarters hotel and an adjoining, 150-suite hotel. The two hotels are central to the proposed Gateway Center.

The Gateway Center, being developed by Grove Street Partners, is a 1.1 million square foot, mixed-use facility which will be connected to the Georgia International Convention Center on Camp Creek Parkway, and to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The development group expects to break ground on the hotels -- a Marriott and a Springhill Suites -- in November 2008, and construction is due to be completed in 27 months.

Development Director Rebecca Ferguson said the project uses the location of the airport to justify the investment, and promises strong development in the College Park area. "Logistics advantages, global opportunities, available land and a growing convention and hospitality district," she said, "will make College Park a great place to invest."

The expanding airport and increasing traveler traffic has caused an increased demand for hotels, office space, and commercial and retail space, according to Grove Street Partners.

"Factor in demand from GICC events and the [Consolidated Rental Car Facility]," said Jim Stormont, who leads the development project for Grove Street Partners, "and Gateway Center hotel development should prove to be enormously successful. We've planed two premier hotel brands adjacent to a world-class convention center at the front door of the world's busiest airport."

The facility will be connected to the airport through an electric Automated People Mover, a light rail extending from inside the airport to the rental car facility. The light rail, now under construction, will allow travelers to move easily from the airport to the convention center feeding the hotels and the retail and commercial businesses.

The light rail is the first expansion of the airport's transit system outside of the airport. Some have proposed it could eventually loop all the way around the airport, in Clayton and Fulton counties, turning the transportation hub into an aerotropolis, and idea supported by College Park officials.