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AIRPORT DESIGN Last modified on September 29, 2014

Georgia on my mind

Nicole Nelson finds out more about the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance’s plans to transform the area around Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport into an economic powerhouse.

A catchphrase commonly associated with Porsche’s sleek line of sports vehicles is ‘High performance meets outstanding everyday practicality’. 

Striving for the ideal of ‘intelligent performance’, the same expression justly applies to Porsche Cars North America’s recent decision to relocate from the manicured suburban streets of Atlanta’s Sandy Springs enclave to what was once a depressed 28-acre plot of land adjacent to the north-east corner of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Expected to be complete by the end of the calendar year, the $100 million complex – with modern office facilities, a Technical Service and Training Center, and a leading-edge Customer Experience Center – is intended to deliver the Porsche brand and product experience to employees, dealers and customers alike, all within a stone’s throw of the world’s busiest airport.

“Porsche selected the Atlanta Aerotropolis for our new North American headquarters, and for the first Porsche Experience Center in America, because it offers a combination of attributes that just don’t exist anywhere else,” explains Joseph Folz, general counsel and secretary of Porsche Cars North America.

He also notes that the airport area has reasonably priced land ready for redevelopment and is in close proximity to one of the US’s great cities. 

“Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta is not only the world’s busiest airport, but it is also one of the very best – and the same is true of Delta Air Lines.

“Together, they allow us easy access to everywhere else in the country and the world. That is critically important to a truly international company that wants to remain close to its dealers, its customers and its stakeholders.” 

Folz says the ease with which people can get to Atlanta – 80% of the US population are less than a two-hour flight away – gave Porsche a strong business case for its new test track. 

However, he admits that the area around Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) was seen as an unconventional choice for a company with a banner name like Porsche.

“Some people didn’t think it was ‘prestigious’ enough and tried talking us out of it,” Folz tells Airport World. “They didn’t realise that Porsche has always been about function over form.”  

Doug Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, reveals that prior to Porsche’s commitment to the Aerotropolis airport region, the area was thought of as a “secondary market”. 

“While we had other recent good developments that showed this was not true, Porsche was the watershed moment for the area. 

 

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“We have had a lot of distribution centres and warehouses come to the airport area, which is great – this area has one of the highest concentrations in transportation and warehousing-related jobs in the region – but we thought, maybe there is something else we can do,” Hooker says. 

“Maybe there is another niche market we can go after that doesn’t fit in other parts of the region.” 

This premise led to the launch of the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance, a 501(c)(6) tax-exempt non-profit organisation that serves the area much like a business league. 

With three chambers already in existence within the airport area in addition to the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Hooker insists that the Alliance is not intending to duplicate the ongoing efforts of others. 

“What it’s meant to do is find linkages between all of these public and private organisations and get everybody around the same table and move forward,” Hooker explains, noting that the membership is derived of delegates from cities and counties around the airport as well as private organisations, with initial staff support supplied by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC).

He adds that the ARC has made a commitment of two years to provide the Alliance with on-call needs ranging from communications personnel to planners and economic development types, and has had a positive response since the first official meeting in March.

“We received a lot of good local and national press and made a pretty big splash in the news,” Hooker comments on the Alliance’s first attempts to amplify and leverage the economic potential created by ATL. 

In addition to being chaired by Porsche’s own Folz, the Alliance carries the weight of other big companies and visionary public officials who sit around the same table including the likes of executives from Georgia Power, Delta Air Lines and, naturally, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. 

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta’s general manager, Miguel Southwell, applauded Porsche’s leap into Atlanta’s Aerotropolis realm.

“Development needn’t be just the logistics facilities, warehouses or two and three-star hotels that we know occur around airports in the United States,” says Southwell.

“In Latin America, the Caribbean and even Africa, the land around the airport is some of the most premium land in those regions for corporate offices or even residences. But here in the US, for some reason, there has been an absence of Class A office development or even significant residential development.”

Southwell, who cites Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt as examples of gateways to successfully embrace the airport city concept, continues: “The whole notion of an airport city is really bringing the concept that already exists in European nations and developing nations, and Porsche really has been the incubator of that,” noting that the airport intends to participate in the Alliance process with forward-thinking initiatives of its own. 

“Hopefully, by the end of the year, we will have a clear direction in terms of where we are going, but the idea would be to create not only a high-end hotel presence attached to the airport, but that high-end facility would also anchor additional Class A office facilities, including a service plaza where both employees as well as patrons that are returning rental cars could gas up their vehicles, a convenience store, a dry cleaner, and even a pet hotel that, again, would be helpful for the 58,000 employees at the airport.” 

Whether development comes in the form of a minimart or a global headquarters, the leadership at the Alliance believes that any company can benefit from being near the best transportation asset in America.

Folz says that while Porsche was not at all scared at being the first marquee name to choose the largely industrial airport area in some time, the luxury car company certainly doesn’t want to be alone. 

“We want our landmark development to be a catalyst for great things in the airport area, a magnet for other development – hotels, restaurants, retail, housing, other corporate headquarters – and we are committed to doing our bit to be a great corporate citizen,” enthuses Folz. 

“We want to do whatever we can to make the airport area a magnet for development in the coming decades.” 

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