ILM unveils plans for new business park
September 15, 2012By J. Elias O'Neal
It’s a vision airport leaders have had for more than a decade that’s finally beginning to take flight.
As the pace of the Wilmington area’s economic recovery continues to gain some traction, Wilmington International Airport officials are ramping up their plans to transform part of the property into premier class A office, retail and light industrial space.
ILM finance director Jim Morton said officials were forging ahead with marketing efforts for the airport’s ILM Business Park – a 153.2-acre development bordered by the airport, Airport Boulevard and Blue Clay Road.
The first phase calls for more than 48 acres fronting Airport Boulevard to be transformed into class A office space. Airport officials hope to incorporate sidewalks and park space throughout 13 different development parcels identified in the project’s master plan.
The remaining acreage is designated for light industrial, manufacturing and distribution operations.
Morton said developing the land was part of the airport’s plan to diversify revenue streams and help further boost passenger numbers at ILM.
“Financially, we’re at a strong point to move forward,” he said. “Wilmington has grown, and the airport has doubled within the last 10 years … now is the time to start putting our plan into place.”
Morton said a number of the parcels identified within the master plan’s first phase would be long-term lease agreements. Airport officials have no plans to sell the parcels.
“Before the recession, developers did not want to lease. They wanted to own the property and build to their own specifications,” Morton said. “That’s changed. Leasing has become more of an option.”
Wilmington International currently leases to three companies: 84 Lumber, located on Hall Road; and Wilmington Business Development, located along Hewlett Road, are two.
The third is a Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic – a $24 million, 102,000-square-foot medical facility in the ILM Business Park that could employ up to 265 people. Officials executed a 20-year lease that included three 10-year options for extension.
Morton said the clinic could be open by December. He added that the new outpatient clinic could be the catalyst to jumpstart a number of projects and activity at the business park.
“We feel having the VA clinic is really going to spur more activity out here,” Morton said.
Morton said he is in “several talks” with developers to construct a hotel within the airport’s business park that could include conference space. He said officials are also close to building 10,000-15,000 square feet of flex retail space, which they hope will land small eateries like a sandwich shop or a coffee shop.
And officials are hoping that like their work above ground, what’s being completed underground will entice future companies.
Last year, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority completed upgrades to a nearby lift station that increased the 153-acre development’s sewer capacity by 225,000 gallons a day. Morton added that airport officials were also working with the authority to expand a second water line into the business park. The site also has permitted stormwater retention ponds, including an existing dry pond that drains within 48 hours.
Work is also underway to add an additional traffic lane along North 23rd Street from the Airport Boulevard entrance to the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway interchange. And the existing CSX railroad line, which borders many of the industrial parcels north of the airport, is beginning to draw interest from industries.
Officials are also making changes within the airport as well.
Morton said plans to move the airport’s rental car maintenance station away from the main airport and construct a new maintenance facility on 3.5 acres near the intersection of Gardner and Hewitt drives within the business park are currently underway.
“We hope to have the facility designed by December and begin bidding the project shortly after that,” he said.
“We want to start construction by February or March.”
He said once the new maintenance facility was complete, plans call for the former maintenance facility to be razed to make way for new hangars.
Morton said the area’s improving economic conditions, along with continued business leads from the N.C. Department of Commerce and Wilmington Business Development, make marketing the ILM Business Park a major priority for officials.
“We feel now is a good time to really start marketing the site,” Morton said. “There are not many sites in New Hanover County that are shovel ready for development, and we feel getting these parcels on the market now is very advantageous.”