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Paris officials look at 'marriage' of College Park, Hartsfield-Jackson

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

College Park city officials met with a delegation from France, as the Parisian officials researched ways to improve their city's relationship with its own Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport.

The foreign officials were looking to College Park, the 9.7-square mile city butting-up against Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest passenger airport in the world, and asking about the relationship between the two.

"They were asking, in general and in somewhat broken English, 'How do you get along with the airport?' How do you do it?'" said Gerald Walker, the city's public information officer.

The city has publicly embraced the concept of becoming an airport-oriented city, branding itself as a "global city," and an "air transportation gateway." The city has seen, recently, the construction of an Automated People Mover, off of the airport, attract a $250 million, mixed-use development, which will be anchored by major, high-end hotels.

Walker said the city sees its relationship with the airport as "a marriage." The most important part, he said, is continuing communication.

"We believe that the best thing we've all done is keep the conversation alive, and keep the conversation going," Walker said. "When you see municipal government and the airport at work together, those are beautiful facts that we want to highlight. But, we do have to make sacrifices. We have to live with a little bit of noise ... and 33 percent of the city is owned by the airport."

College Park recently has seen its population rolls -- and its tax base -- shrink, as the airport has expanded.

The relationship between the city and the airport is sometimes strained, though. Councilman Tracey Wyatt said that some of the airport's expansions feel like sly annexations, with the airport eating the city one piece at a time.

"We always have a relationship with the airport, but it has to be a relationship where they accept that we're a sovereign city," Wyatt said. "If they just continue to come in and wipe out our residence, then we're not going to have any city left."

The French officials told the mayor and the interim city manager, the relationship between Paris and the Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport is sometimes very strained. According to Walker, the foreign officials were interested in hearing how the city uses the airport as an economic engine.

College Park is ending this fiscal year with a budget surplus of about $19 million, according to Wyatt, compared with nearby East Point, which has roughly twice as many residents and is ending the fiscal year with a reported deficit of about $8 million.

"We have bent over backwards for the airport, in many cases," Walker said. "The expansion of the airport has caused College Park to make concession after concession, but the city has been paid well for it."

Doug Hooker, a district director at PBS&J, an engineering firm which has researched Atlanta-area, airport-oriented land use, said an airport is a giant economic engine and leaves the surrounding communities with a choice.

"Hartsfield's already there," Hooker said, "so the question is, do you want to turn your back on it and ignore it, or do you want to put a community face on it ... If the neighboring cities and counties can develop their land-use patterns and development patterns, they can become kind of extensions of the airport economy."