By CHARLES SUBLETT
Chairman, Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust
Two of the most important economic development assets in the Tulsa region are the Tulsa International Airport and the Tulsa Port of Catoosa. These two transportation hubs are surrounded by many miles of rail lines and major highways. Together, these four transportation modes can make an ideal opportunity to develop an intermodal transportation facility where the transport of a variety of goods and commodities can efficiently pass from one mode to another on its way to the public market.
There are many examples of intermodal facilities that have developed into industrial, manufacturing, and logistical centers, such as Alliance, Texas and Memphis, Tenn., where new industries have located at the intermodal facility and created new jobs, increased property values, and provided a source of financial stability to the cost of airport operations. This in turn can drive down the cost of airfares.
Tulsa is fortunate to have over 3,500 acres of mostly undeveloped industrial land east of the airport and five miles west of the port that is ideally located to tie together our air, port, rail, and road infrastructures. Major transportation, distribution, and logistics companies in the area include , UP, & rail, over 50 local motor freight companies, and numerous steel, grain, chemical, and heavy machinery distribution centers at the Tulsa Port.
The area near the airport has all of the right economic development incentives needed for a successful project. The area is in a designated enterprise zone, can qualify as a tax increment financing district, and is eligible for the expansion of the foreign trade zone currently at the port.
The idea of an intermodal facility has been supported by ODOT’s Intermodal Transportation Plan, INCOG’s Regional Transportation Plan, and PLANiTULSA. There have been plenty of studies, public discussion, and government approvals at all levels.
A key piece in the project is the land exchange between the City of Tulsa and the University of Tulsa. While the size of the acres and the value of each are not exactly dollar for dollar, the opportunity value far surpasses any value gap, particularly when neither the City or TU have any plans or funding available to do anything with the land they own. With the land swap, they will.
One part of this project that seems to have been overlooked is what this can do to create a new development opportunity north of downtown. Currently the rail line owns between 26 and 29 acres of land east of Tulsa and west of the old Fintube site where rail cars are stored until they are needed to be moved. With the proposed intermodal site, the downtown storage area would be moved east of the airport, thereby freeing up this land for downtown development.
This opportunity is perhaps the largest, the last, and the best land mass for manufacturing and industrial development left in Tulsa. It pulls together the region and promotes the type of public private collaboration and partnerships we all talk about and support.
The Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust is committed to seeing this project through. We believe it is not only good for the economy but good for the airport. The more we can develop and produce non airline revenue for the operations of the airport the better position we will be in to lower airfares for everyone using Tulsa International Airport.