The Flight of BWI:
From Friendship to Aerotropolis
In 1784, 13-year-old Edward Warren made the first recorded flight in America, a balloon ride over Baltimore, thus staking the area’s claim to aeronautical significance. Now, developer Mitch Weber envisions a modern aerotropolis, an airport-city built around Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Known as “Mr. Aerotropolis” for his unrelenting promulgation of the airport-city concept, Weber is president of the Heffner & Weber real estate development company. “The aerotropolis is a large long-term multi-developer project. [It involves] transit-oriented, mixed-use development, creating a living and working environment, driven by the desire to minimize congestion.”
Plans include the development of “up to three million square feet of mixed-use in a vibrant, main street-style, transit-oriented town center development with transit connections to BWI Airport, AMTRAK, MARC, light rail, the Port of Baltimore, and the future D.C. Metro Green Line extension to BWI and Baltimore,” he explained with enthusiasm.
“We would anticipate 100 percent build-out of the BWI Town Center South—the central business district of the BWI Aerotropolis—to take approximately 10 to 15 years, and hopefully include completion of the Hanover Road extension and interchange with the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and the extension of the D.C. Metro Green Line to the BWI Rail Station,” he added.
The Linthicum airport’s origin was June 24, 1950 when President Harry Truman dedicated Friendship International Airport, located on 3200 acres 10 miles south of Baltimore and 30 miles northeast of Washington, D.C. In 1972, the state of Maryland purchased the airport from the city of Baltimore for $36 million, renaming the facility Baltimore-Washington International Airport in an effort to attract D.C. air travelers.
Since then, several phases of modernization, renovation, and upgrades have taken place, including the addition of an international terminal and the expansion of Concourses A and B to accommodate the increased presence of Southwest Airlines. Air cargo buildings, extensive parking facilities, runway extensions, and much more have been added over the years.
The passenger terminal comprises 1.976 million square feet with four domestic concourses and one international concourse. A total of 52 airlines—commuter, charter, and cargo—use the airport. Each day, an average of 658 domestic passenger flights take off and land at the airport, which served a record 20.7 million passengers in 2006.
In 2005, the airport was renamed again to honor Baltimore native Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), the former United States Supreme Court justice. Marshall served on the court from 1967 to 1991, and had a long history of winning cases during the segregation era to knock down many “separate but equal” laws. Among his victories was the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which was a sledgehammer blow to the legal basis for segregation in this country. His work helped remove a deep shame borne by American citizens.
The frenzy of commercial construction taking place in western Anne Arundel County in the general environs of BWI consists of hotels, restaurants, office space, tech parks, business parks, and warehousing—mushrooming in the county’s Gold Coast, a term used by former County Executive Janet S. Owens to describe the burgeoning commercial corridor.
“What we’re seeing at the airport is a natural maturation,” said Owen Rouse, senior vice president of Manekin LLC, a Columbia-based, full-service real estate company, noting the confluence of hotels, retail, parking, rental car service, and an international terminal. “We’re now starting to modernize everything else. We’re working on the outside of the airport. Developers are looking at property. BWI is modern and competitive.”
Alexis Henderson, vice president of corporate communications for the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation, explained that BWI is attractive to developers because it is “easy to use and that it is easy to get to places from the airport,” especially Washington and Annapolis. “Businesspersons have access to the Atlantic seaboard. Hotels in the area are targeting the business traveler, equipping the rooms accordingly.”
As evidence of the economic importance of the BWI region, Henderson explained that between the years 2000 and 2005, the county added 26,000 private sector jobs, a figure that does not include government jobs related to Ft. Meade, NSA, or at the state and county level. “North county is responsible for about one-third of the jobs,” she said.
The building upsurge has many assigning the term “aerotropolis” to BWI’s future. Defined as a new type of urban form featuring aviation-intensive businesses and other enterprises extending up to 20 miles outward from major airports, aerotropolis refers to the airport and the immediate vicinity becoming a destination itself.
Dick Story, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, explained that Dr. John D. “Jack” Kasarda, PhD “wrote about the potential around airports for people to recreate [i.e., engage in recreation].”
Kasarda, an American academic, developed the concept, which emerged because of the advantages airports and their environs provide to business in the new speed-driven, globally networked economy.
“Airport property beyond the terminal is being developed with hotel and entertainment facilities, conference and exhibition complexes, shopping centers, office buildings, and logistics and free trade zones,” he explained. “Indeed, under the new airport city model, many airports are becoming significant employment, shopping, business meeting, and entertainment destinations in their own right.”
Typical of the type of development transforming the former Friendship Airport into a modern aerotropolis is the Crosswinds Resort, scheduled to open early in 2010. Just minutes from the airport, and situated on 31 acres at International Drive just off West Nursery Road, the $375 million project features four upscale full service hotels totaling 1,200 rooms, world-class conference and meeting space, and a 140,000 sq. ft. picturesque “City Walk” showcasing multiple restaurants, entertainment venues and specialty retailers.
Crosswinds also plans to have year-round family entertainment, including a 145,000 sq. ft. self-contained indoor aquatics center featuring the East Coast’s largest collection of water slides and attractions. The resort would solve the generally acknowledged problem of a lack of restaurants near the airport and provide an airport destination for local and distant visitors.
“By the end of the fall, we should be moving dirt,” said Jay Patel, CEO/CFO of Asha Companies, a mixed-use development company. “This is our baby! We’re very proud to bring this project to Anne Arundel County.”
For locals, a visit to Crosswinds could be a weekend getaway—“like going to Florida,” Patel enthused—while expecting area residents to be a prime source of customers for the complex’s businesses. By creating jobs and attracting visitors, Crosswinds “should help the business community in general. There’s a lot of run-off revenues generated for other local malls and businesses.”
He said “aerotropolis” describes the notion of “live, work, play,” a type of airport-centered mixed-use development where jobs, housing, and recreation all share proximity to the airport.
“It’s going to be amazing for the community, the county, and the state,” Patel bubbled. “There will be huge tax revenues. It will bring national conferences. It’s a win-win for everyone. For the local community, the restaurant options will be great.”
A Howard County resident, Patel added, “We’re very proud of BWI Airport,” referring to the airport’s size and quality. “BWI is the main hub for transportation, for well-traveled people who go all over the globe. It’s a metropolitan airport.”
“It’s very early in the process,” said Maryland Aviation Administration spokesperson Jonathan Dean, of BWI as an aerotropolis. “The airport considers it an interesting concept. Local developers started the discussion with the county. The MAA will continue to work with interested parties [on new development ideas].”
County Executive John Leopold is keen on the BWI aerotropolis, although “there are no county resources being dedicated to it at this time,” said Pam Jordan, county spokesperson. “The county executive supports mixed-use transit-oriented development. Conceptually, he supports the Crosswinds Resort project.”
She added, “Every project must meet the county Adequate Public Facilities requirements—roads and water and sewer capacity.”
“There are tentative plans dealing with the aerotropolis concept,” confirmed District 1 county council member Daryl Jones. “They want to develop the area.”
The Crosswinds Resort project “abuts the Linthicum community,” he added. “There are concerns about the development causing disruptions in the quality of life.” The consequences of “major development moving into an older existing community” include the possible increase in traffic in the neighborhoods that encircle the airport.
Jones is trying to ensure transparency in the plans and proceedings so that neighboring communities are able to respond. “A task force of community leaders has been working with developers to lessen the impact that development will have on the community,” he noted.
“You come into the suburbs and you end up in the city,” he mused. “The Linthicum community will be impacted. The increase of the commercial tax base must be balanced against the residents’ peace and enjoyment.”