Airport needs visionaries

Developers are looking to Detroit’s “Aerotropolis” for inspiration for how to improve the Toledo Express Airport.
Developers are looking to Detroit’s “Aerotropolis” for inspiration for how to improve the Toledo Express Airport.

Developer Brian McMahon is showing some vision with his criticism of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority over business opportunities at the Toledo Express Airport. The Port Authority is also showing vision with its incremental development of an industrial park on the south side of the airport.

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Mr. McMahon told The Blade last week he thinks the airport could have made a credible pitch for one of the Amazon distribution hubs that went to airport developments near Detroit and Cincinnati.

In Mr. McMahon’s view, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Columbus’s Rickenbacker Airport have nothing on the Toledo Express Airport.

From some people this would be fodder for mirth. Coming from a developer of Mr. McMahon’s experience, it’s no joke.

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Mr. McMahon cites as a model for the Toledo airport’s future the airport-oriented development occurring between Detroit Metro and Willow Run airports.

The economic scale of Wayne and Washtenaw counties and their local communities, with the large population, and auto industry headquarters, are represented in the Detroit Region Aerotropolis Development Corp. The “aerotropolis” is empowered to grant development incentives, in the same way that the Regional Growth Partnership grants development incentives in this area.

Mr. McMahon is a partner in Land-Air LLC, which broke ground in December on a 100,000-square-foot speculative building it hopes will catalyze development of a 250-acre industrial park just north of Toledo Express near Swanton. The LLC received a $750,000 state grant for that project.

Good for him. Mr. McMahon, however, didn’t invent the idea of erecting “spec” buildings. The Port Authority in 2009 at the airport, in partnership with one of Mr. McMahon’s competitors, Ed Harmon, built an 80,000-square-foot building and were successful in quickly leasing it out — and which now houses 35 manufacturing jobs.

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The state’s development agency JobsOhio and Lucas County are facilitating Mr. McMahon’s project north of the airport while the Port Authority and the Ohio Department of Transportation are developing the so-called “mini-Aerotropolis” — officially the Express Industrial Park — on land between the airfield and U.S. 20A south of the airport.

A recent report on industrial space in Lucas County, by Reichle Klein Group, found that there is virtually no class A industrial space available in the Toledo market and rents are rising — a good sign of robust opportunity.

We have two developers — Mr. McMahon and the Port Authority — competing to create industrial parks in the vicinity of the Toledo Express Airport. Maybe what’s needed is a Toledo Area Airport Authority that could coordinate development as Toledo’s airport becomes increasingly attractive to commercial and industrial developers — and to make sure aviation remains pre-eminent at the airport.

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