Airport pushes land development |

Airport pushes land development

Rob Sabo
An aerial image showing the roughly 250 acres of developable land around Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Courtesy Reno-Tahoe International Airport |

A push to develop vacant land around Reno-Tahoe International Airport and Reno-Stead Airport could provide the airport authority with funds to hedge against volatile market cycles and help offset a sharp decrease in revenues generated by a slowdown in air service at the airport.

Executives with Reno-Tahoe International Airport last week unveiled a five-point strategic plan to grow revenue and air and cargo service over the next five years. A key element of the plan: bring new tenants to airport grounds. There are roughly 250 acres of developable land surrounding the Reno airport and another 4,000 acres at Reno-Stead Airport that could be developed.

The Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority plans on putting out requests for qualifications for land development at both airports in 2014 and 2015 using several different usage scenarios for the land.

The airport has been marketing the empty acreage around the Reno airport for several years, says Marily Mora, president and chief executive officer of Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Mora was named to the post in May of this year.

“Instead us telling the market, ‘Here’s what we think you should do,’ we are going to put out these different packages of opportunities on the land and have it market-driven,” Mora says.

Tina Iftiger, vice president of airport economic development, says the nature of the pending proposals creates more synergy between the airport and private developers.

“The market will tell us what it ought to be,” Iftiger says.

The airport authority generates as much as 70 percent of its revenue from non-airline activities such as parking, concessions, rental cars and land and building rents. The vacant land at Stead is the last contiguous undeveloped industrial parcel in Washoe County, Iftiger notes, and development there will be focused on creating maximum job value for the region. Industrial users seeking to develop large parcels of land are a natural fit at Stead, but Iftiger says the proximity to an airfield and rail service also are excellent marketing points.

Additionally, the new terminal at Reno-Stead Airport opens this week.

“That is what is going to be the driver, people that value being near that airfield and want to be near that rail hub. Those are the types of firms we want to attract,” Iftiger says.

Reno-Stead Airport also is on the shortlist to be approved as one of six Federal Aviation Administration test centers for unmanned aerial systems, or drones. If Reno-Stead is approved, Iftiger says, firms focusing on data collection and analysis would want to locate there, as well as drone manufacturers.

“There will be a lot of electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and computer science-type jobs,” she says. “We are hoping we can attract the Fortune 100 companies in this space. There are a lot of big-name aerospace companies that have Department of Defense intellectual property that they are trying to commercialize and bring into the civilian marketplace, and we are hoping to capture some of that.”

Adam Mayberry, chair of the airport authority’s board of trustees, says developers have shown increased interest in both locations over past few years, and inquiries really began heating up in October. The majority of interest is from firms who want to be near and need the infrastructure the airports provide.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport wasn’t immune to the effects of the Great Recession — airline service is down 45 percent since 2005. On a brighter note, cargo volumes rose 6.5 percent year over year in 2011 and were up another 5 percent last year.

The Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority expects to announce the addition of another cargo carrier at Reno-Tahoe International Airport in the first quarter of 2014.

“Cargo holds tremendous opportunities for us in the future,” Mora says. “We are going to actively grow cargo development to position Reno as a West Coast distribution point and want to optimize infrastructure to address market demand.”