When building an aerotropolis, a city needs a full-time champion, according to John Kasarda, the University of North Carolina business professor who popularized the airport-area urban development scheme.
Now, the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance has that in Shelley Lamar, a former airport official who was named its executive director earlier this month.
Ms. Lamar comes to the nonprofit from JAT Consulting, which she joined after spending 17 years in planning, management and community engagement with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and other private firms.
She was still working with the airport when the first seeds of the alliance were planted, helping the Atlanta Regional Commission corral the parties necessary to begin talks on a regionwide initiative in the south metro that would capitalize on the airport as a massive economic engine.
With her hiring, the alliance enters a new phase of implementation after years of gathering feedback through public task force meetings and building community support. It eventually modeled itself after collaborative economic-development initiatives that have recruited stakeholders as investors, like Partnership Gwinnett. In a way, it’s the fulfillment of what Dr. Kasarda laid out way back in 2013 in a Global Atlanta article:
Atlanta should create a public-private aerotropolis planning authority headed by a CEO with the rare ability to cast a strong vision without becoming a polarizing force, Dr. Kasarda said.
He or she would be tasked with persuading counties and municipalities with interest in the airport region that it’s better to go far together than fast on their own. Full funding for the authority would be key to its success.
ARC no longer will provide staff support to the organization, which is now tasked with implementing the “blueprint” for area development laid out through a long process of planning and consultation. The 127-page document outlines how the alliance should foster regional collaboration to spur development in sectors that make sense for the airport area, like logistics, aerospace, food and agribusiness, life sciences, multimedia production and more.
Already the alliance has no shortage of momentum on which to build. Along with the new Porsche headquarters and test track in Hapeville and the Solis Hotel development nearby, ground has broken recently on Airport City, an Intercontinental Hotel directly connected to the domestic terminal, as well as an expansion of the Gateway Center and a new College Park residential development, The Pad on Harvard. See key projects here.
Ms. Lamar understands the area on multiple levels. She has served on the board of the Airport-Area Chamber of Commerce for more than 10 years and has helped develop the multiple community-improvement districts that have sprung up around the airport.
Major corporations like Chick-fil-A, Delta Air Lines and Porsche are all based within the aerotropolis footprint, which spans a 20-mile radius around the airport, and county governments like Clayton, Henry. Dekalb and Fulton are involved.