04/26/2012 02:49 pm ET

Mayor Hancock Unveils 'Airport City Denver' Master Development Plan For DIA At Airport Cities World Conference

At the Airport Cities World Conference held in Denver this week, Denver Mayor Hancock announced a plan intended to further the reach of Denver International Airport's business potential. The roadmap comes from a Canadian firm the city hired in 2011.

The plan, titled "Airport City Denver" would schedule parcels of land for development around DIA, all oriented to facilitating business. Among the touted areas:

  • A "City Center" imagined as "the convergence point between the vibrant business community and the Airport's ongoing development initiatives."
  • A "City Gateway" with mixed-use commercial and "transit-oriented development."
  • A Logistics center oriented to rapid shipping facilities with international reach.
  • An "Aero District" offering secure access to "cargo, aerospace, aviation and military operations."
  • A "Tech District" emphasizing global collaboration between aerospace manufacturing, aviation, renewable energy, biosciences, and other tech industries.
  • An "Agro District" for food processing/distribution, cold storage, greenhouse agriculture, bio-fuel industry, and warehouse space.

This so-called "aerotropolis" concept is a relatively new phenomenon, aimed at facilitating rapid global business transactions (especially air freight) by placing them in close proximity to a region's airport. In theory, a bigger airport, with more space, could leverage those transactions to bring in yet more business, thereby increasing the region's economic activity exponentially.

With 53 square miles of space, Denver International Airport rings in as the nation's largest. And therefore, argue officials behind the Airport City project, has the potential to catch a leading wave in the global reinvention of manufacturing and research.

"We have a unique opportunity to take our region’s biggest economic engine and spark a new era of growth that will transform Metro Denver and revitalize the regional economy," said Hancock in his speech. "We will create a development that thrives on the airport’s natural synergy, attracting business and jobs that benefit from a close relationship to the airport and its inherent access to national and international markets."

Underscoring the catchy buzzwords is hard data. A detailed examination of the aerotropolis future by Fast Company points out that, since the 1980s, global GDP has risen 154%, and world trade has grown 355%. The value of air cargo, meanwhile, has climbed an astonishing 1,395%.

Airport City Denver won't happen overnight. According to press release, the Denver master plan is intended to guide development over the next 30 to 50 years. However, as of January 2012, an RTD train station at DIA is still scheduled for a 2014 opening, and a 500-room Westin hotel the following year.

As lightweight composite materials increasingly unlock the potential for air travel over greater and greater distances (DIA already has flights direct to Iceland and is in the process of recruiting direct flights to Asia), we're curious to see where this may lead. That said, DIA was built far from the urban core for a reason. Stapleton, Denver's old airport, was decommissioned over lack of space to grow, and was a noisy neighbor to boot. Let's make sure "Airport City Denver" isn't just a setup for Stapleton, round 2.