Lehigh Valley

Airport authority fielding development proposals for more than 300 acres

Development would occur around LVIA and Braden

HANOVER TWP., Pa. - Fresh off a deal to sell 270 acres of land for a FedEx ground hub, the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority is now courting suitors for more than 300 acres of land prime for development.

The airport authority is currently weighing five development proposals for about 290 acres northeast of the airport on the east side of Airport Road and received one proposal for about 44 acres around Braden Airpark in Forks Township.

The group eyeing the property around LVIA in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, include developers such as Majestic Realty Co. and J.G. Petrucci. And while the authority only received one response to its request for proposals for Braden, officials are confident the combination of Petrucci and Griffin Industrial Realty will render a viable proposal.

Any development around the two airports would be limited to low-rise industrial or commercial. Residential development is prohibited.

The board received only a brief update Tuesday on the authority’s ongoing real estate initiatives, in part, because officials are in the deciding whether to hire a real estate development firm to consult on the LVIA proposals.

After the board meeting, authority Executive Director Charles Everett and board Chairman Mike Dowd agreed that whatever officials do with its land is tied directly to the authority’s long-term health.

The land surrounding LVIA and Braden Airpark are “very valuable assets to the community,” and it’s up to the board to use it in a way that guarantees the authority’s long-term health, Dowd said.

So Everett said the question is whether to sell the property outright and take an immediate cash payment or lease the property to create a long-term revenue stream.

That’s part of what Cushman and Wakefield would be tasked with assessing, if the authority decides to retain its services.

The board’s executive committee last week met with representatives from Cushman and Wakefield to get a better sense of what the working relationship would entail. The firm recently worked with the Berks County Industrial Development Authority on its Berks Park 183 project.

Jeff Williams, a senior director with Cushman and Wakefield, called the LVIA property “interesting.” He said he’d need to know more about what a developer is designing for the property and whether it’s well-received by the township before he could say for certain what kind of market exists.

But he’s confident in a strong market, noting there’s about a 3 percent vacancy rate for manufacturing space in the Lehigh Valley right now.

“People are building spec as quickly as they can get a shovel in the ground,” Williams said.

Board member John Crampsie was skeptical about retaining a real estate consultant to guide the authority on what type of development might be best suited for the property. Developers are submitting proposals based on what they think they can build and market, he said.

Crampsie was also wary of bringing in a firm to help select a developer only to have Cushman and Wakefield turn around to represent the developer through its land development process.

Adam Campbell, managing director of the firm’s Harrisburg office, said having a consultant on board as an “extra set of eyes” would help advise the authority on which developers would best fit its goals. If the authority is looking to lease the land, for instance, Cushman and Wakefield has an expertise in knowing which developers having the flexibility for that type of development.

Board member Ed Lozano said he wasn’t opposed to utilizing some outside expertise, but argued that “an extra set of eyes” was too nebulous a job description. The board needs to know what exactly it expects from the firm and set milestones.

Everyone seemed to agree that any arrangement would be a short-term relationship based on an hourly rate. Darren Betters, the authority’s director of business development, told the executive committee that having some additional expertise in these types of development deals would be helpful and that he envisioned using the firm only on an as-needed basis.

The next step is to develop a clear scope of work before bringing a contract to the board. Betters said Tuesday the developers who submitted proposals for the LVIA property have been told the process is in a holding pattern for about 60 days.

The authority plans to whittle the initial responses down to two developers, who will than have a 120-day due diligence period before officials make a final decision.

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