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Clayton officials expect big impact from aerotropolis

Clayton County commission Chairman Jeff Turner talks about the impact of the newly announced Aerotropolis Alliance on the county during a press conference Friday. County officials said they are excited about the prospects the alliance brings for development. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

Clayton County commission Chairman Jeff Turner talks about the impact of the newly announced Aerotropolis Alliance on the county during a press conference Friday. County officials said they are excited about the prospects the alliance brings for development. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

COLLEGE PARK — Clayton County government, business and economic development leaders said they are giddy about the possibilities available to them through the formation of the recently announced Aerotropolis Alliance.

The alliance is a regional effort to boost the Southern Crescent’s economy by attracting new businesses to a city-like “aerotropolis zone” around Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

That zone extends deep into Clayton County with the stretch of Ga. 138 that runs from Jonesboro Road to the Fulton County line serving as part of the southern boundary. The area includes College Park, Ellenwood, Forest Park, Lake City, Morrow and about half of Riverdale.

Included in that area are Fort Gillem, Southlake Mall, the Mountain View area and the commercial corridors along Ga. 85, Mt. Zion and Jonesboro roads and Tara Boulevard.

“I’m excited about it,” said Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President Yulonda Beauford, an alliance board member.

Although the City of Atlanta operates Hartsfield-Jackson, most of its property is located in Clayton County. For years, county officials have touted the airport’s location as an asset that can be used to promote economic growth.

The alliance’s formation and the involvement of county officials offer an opportunity to show how the airport can be capitalized upon.

“It’s sort of amazing how this whole thing has come together,” said Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt.

“It’s going to set the tone for what we can all have,” College Park Mayor Jack Longino added.

The alliance’s goal will be to help attract businesses to the area around the airport. Porsche Cars North America General Counsel Joe Folz said the concept has been successful in several European cities, as well as some cities in the United States.

Folz is also the chairman of the alliance board and he said Hartsfield-Jackson has the attributes to create a successful aerotropolis.

“Right here in our beautiful hometown, we have an advantage that no place else in the world has,” Folz said. “We are standing in the busiest, the best, the best-located and the best-managed airport in the world. In a world where all business has become global, there’s nothing that could possibly be more important.”

County commission Chairman Jeff Turner pointed out that Clayton County has faced several “challenges” on airport property. Among those challenges are a state jet fuel exemption for airlines and the recent passage of legislation that bans the collection of property taxes on leases concessionaires hold at the airport.

Therefore, the county must develop its portion of the area around the airport, he said.

“If we’re not able to capitalize on what’s on airport property, we must turn our focus to the outside perimeter and this concept does just that,” said Turner, who is an alliance board member. “It gives us what we need in terms of that economic stimulus.

“Once this aerotropolis concept comes to fruition, you’ll see an explosion of jobs,” he added. “You’ll see economic development on an unprecedented scale in Clayton County … It’s going to make a great difference in our economy.”

Clayton County Economic Development Director Grant Wainscott said he was “thrilled” that the alliance has been launched. He said that while it has taken a year and a half to put the alliance together, the aerotropolis concept has been floated in local development circles for nearly a decade.

But he said it was the decision of Porsche Cars North America to move its headquarters from the northside of Atlanta to the old Ford plant site in Hapeville was the catalyst which helped move the aerotropolis movement forward. Porsche, he said, has been a key player in getting the Atlanta Regional Commission to put the alliance together.

“Joe Folz has really been a driving force behind this,” said Wainscott.

But Wainscott also said there is “a lot of power and momentum behind this” and that the opening of the airport’s Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal in 2012 was another catalyst. The international terminal created an access point on I-75 for the airport and county officials believe that opened up the airport to Clayton County more than it had been before.

“It’s just the right time with the right people,” said Wainscott. “It could only happen right now.”

Beauford said the aerotropolis should open up the county to new kinds of development with local and global focuses.

“This is going to open up so many more opportunities for exposure for Clayton County as a whole for development,” she said. “For anything, it’s got to be about collaboration and the fact that we’re collaborating not only within our county, but with other cities around the airport, it makes us stronger and much more marketable to businesses of all sizes.

“And it’s not just your local industries,” Beauford added. “It opens us up to a variety of different types of [international] businesses as well.”

The county has already begun making a commitment to the alliance through monetary means. The Clayton County Development Authority and Georgia Power gave a combined $65,000 as a “gift” to get the group started, said alliance officials during the announcement of the group’s formation Friday.

Of that total, $25,000 came from the development authority, said Turner.

“Although it’s going to be great for Clayton County, it’s a boost for the region as a whole,” he said. “What’s not encompassed in the aerotropolis area — areas like Fayette County and Newnan are going to be affected as well. The Southern Crescent as a whole should benefit from this and it’s something that’s long overdue.”

But there is an issue the alliance board will have to address — namely how it deals with, and incorporates, a string of existing and proposed community improvement districts, tax allocation districts and opportunity zones around the airport.

Among the existing business efforts are the Airport West CID in Fulton County and the Mountain View TAD in Clayton County. But an Airport East CID is being put together in Clayton County and officials in Forest Park, Lake City and Morrow are working on creating the Tri City Opportunity Zone in their cities.

All of those entities fall within the aerotropolis zone.

Officials from the Atlanta Regional Commission — which put the alliance together — said the CIDs will be offered seats on the alliance board.

But the TAD and opportunity zone will have to rely on representation from the county on the board to have their causes advanced within this concept.

The county is represented on the alliance’s 20-member board by Beauford, Turner and College Park Mayor Jack Longino, but there is no representation from the Tri City participants. Turner said board members addressed the issue of greater participation from Clayton County municipalities during their first meeting Friday.

Although part of College Park is in Clayton County, most of it is in Fulton County. There are two other Fulton County cities, East Point and Hapeville, which have representatives on the board. No city that is entirely in Clayton County has a seat on the board, but Turner said that may change.

“We did talk about adding Forest Park because Forest Park definitely needs to have a seat and we are going to reach out to them,” he said. “The good thing is that with the mayors’ alliance [in Clayton County], a lot of their initiatives can be relayed through Longino and [Forest Park Mayor] David Lockhart to the board.

“They [the other cities] may not have a seat, but their voices can still be carried through those two and through me because their concerns are my concerns,” said Turner.

Still, Turner said residents shouldn’t expect to see projects working in separate silos in Clayton County just because some of the projects in Clayton County don’t have representation on the alliance board.

“It’s all going to tie in,” he said.

Turner said the aerotropolis will be another tool in a toolbox that he said is already generating more interest in the county.

“We are already getting a whole lot more interest from larger corporations that are turning their eyes to Clayton County,” he said.