Lehigh Valley

Airport authority re-opens search for more development partners

Authority opening nearly 300 acres to development

HANOVER TWP., Pa. - The potential for more suitors interested in developing land around Lehigh Valley International Airport was enough to convince the authority board to start its search for a developer all over again.

The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority board on Tuesday rejected proposals from five developers interested in developing about 290 acres northeast of the airport in Hanover Township, Lehigh County. The authority will now re-issue its request-for-qualifications and publicly release the request likely next week.

The board made its decision after hearing from development consultant, Cushman and Wakefield, following a roughly 35-minute closed-door session. Cushman and Wakefield had recommended the authority either move all five submissions forward to the second phase or re-open the process.

The authority’s executive committee decided last week to bring the consultant in to explain its reasoning, and the board opted to meet behind closed doors to discuss the developers’ submissions and hear the advice of its consultant.

“We’ve hired someone to give us advice, and they gave us advice,” board Chairman Mike Dowd said after the meeting.

Darren Betters, the authority’s director of business development, said the five submissions made to the authority were “high-level concepts” that offered the developer’s credentials, but did not yet offer much detail.

Board member Larry Hemberger cast the only “no” vote about rejecting the five submissions and starting anew. He said he was concerned the authority risked having the five development groups decline to submit proposals the second time around.

Dowd said after the meeting that Hemberger’s concern was a legitimate one, but that the consensus was the marketplace for developers might be bigger.

Authority officials didn’t offer specifics behind Cushman and Wakefield’s reasoning for re-opening the submission process. But the consultant was convinced that some developers – for a variety reasons – didn’t respond the first time and would if the process was re-opened, Dowd said.

The airport authority notified about 150 developers about the RFQ, along with about 300 more developers notified by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.

Cushman and Wakefield evaluated the five proposals and ranked Hunterdon County-based J.G. Petrucci Company, Majestic Realty Co. and Dallas-based Trammell Crow Co. as the top three.

The authority plans to condense the process this time around by requiring that developers respond within 30 days once the proposals are made public compared to 60 days the first time around. Officials are also considering shortening the due diligence phase from 120 days to 60 or 90 days, during which time developers fine tune their proposals and offer more detail.

Cushman and Wakefield suggested the authority help hasten that process by having things like soil testing and phase-one environmental studies complete for the developers, according to Executive Director Charles Everett. There are no cost estimates available for that type of work, and the authority will discuss the idea with LVEDC, which could help arrange funding for such testing, he said.

It’s unclear at this point exactly how much of the nearly 300 acres would be available for development because zoning regulations require buffers from the airport. As the authority considers develop options for the land, officials will weigh whether to sell property to developers or leases that offer a long-term revenue.

Dowd said it’s possible new proposals could be before the executive committee for review in August. The full board generally doesn’t meet that month, but a meeting could be scheduled, depending on the response, he said.

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