Big-Box Stores Proposed at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport

Hungry for more money that can be generated aside from airlines, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is looking to break new ground among airports by putting a large-scale retail development on its sprawling 18,000 acres.

Thursday, airport executives pitched an idea to board members for a 600-acre mixed-use development that would include a retail tract of 125 acres, and 700,000 to 800,000 square feet of space. The development would sit at the airport's southern tip and be called Passport Park.

Over the past year, D/FW has been trying to boost the retail offerings in its five passenger terminals, with several of its executives likening it to a mall. And for many years, the airport has been carving up some of its land for large warehouse leases.

But this would be the first time that D/FW or any airport has taken on this large of a retail project outside of a terminal, airport officials said.

"This is something very different for us," said Ken Buchanan, D/FW's executive vice president of revenue management. "It represents something very new to the airport."

The retail center would be east of International Parkway, north of Texas 183, west of Valley View Lane, and south of Rental Car Drive. International Parkway is the main north-south road that runs through the airport.

In addition to the 125 acres of retail, the airport is also eyeing an additional 30,000 square feet of restaurant space just to the north of Rental Car Drive along International Parkway.

The development, which is still being studied and has not received final board approval, would be the first of its kind because most airports don't have the amount of unused land that D/FW has.

D/FW's size is second in the country, trailing only Denver International Airport's 34,000 acres.

That airport is also looking to do a similar retail development outside its terminals, but it would only be about 17 acres, said Steve Snyder, an airport spokesman in Denver.

Development rights in the Denver project are being contracted out to a private developer. That was awarded earlier this year to Denver-based CMCB Development.

D/FW officials are still looking at whether they should also contract out the project to a private developer or possibly partner with someone and possibly share in more of the revenue that comes from being a part owner in the buildings, in addition to the land they're built on.

John Terrell, vice president of commercial development at D/FW, said after the meeting that he's had talks with several "top developers" and other retailers, all of whom said they're very interested in the project.

But he's not signed up anyone, and that would likely be a year and a half to two years away.

The 125-acre retail piece would consist of several big-box tenants, the likes of which often include Target, Wal-Mart and PetSmart at other shopping centers.

The center would also include smaller stores, which often include Ross, Ulta and Ann Taylor Loft.

Airport officials envision a retail environment dominated by tall trees, similar to what's found in The Woodlands, just north of Houston.

The shopping center would have some land set aside for a light-rail connection sometime in future, Terrell said. However, he added that could be way down the road, because the airport itself would first have to get connected to the DART light-rail system, which is planned for around 2012 or 2015.

The shopping center would likely have an upscale feel similar to many seen in suburban communities such as Southlake or Flower Mound, Buchanan said.

It would mostly target nearby residents and some of the 5,000 employees who work at the airport daily.

However, the restaurant plaza, which would include anywhere from five to seven upscale restaurants, is definitely aimed at travelers, Terrell said.

He has visions of putting out electronic signs that drivers could see from far away that indicate whether there are any seats available at each of the restaurants or whether the time-starved traveler should move on to catch his flight. Terrell said he's also looking at trying to install TV monitors that would display up-to-the-minute flight times.

But opening a retail development would possibly be two to three years away, he said. It would take at least a year to plan it.

This is all being done now for several reasons. The airport is in the midst of planning the future use of about 7,000 acres outside the area where it has its terminals. That's because it wants to be ready for when the drilling of gas wells starts within the next year or so.

Also, the airport has taken a stronger interest in generating revenue outside the turbulent airline industry, Terrell said.

"The airport traditionally has not had the need to go out and look for a lot of nonairline revenues," he said. "And about a year ago, we took a new approach, and we decided what can we do to further develop nonairline revenues across the airport."

The more the airport generates in nonairline revenue, the less it has to charge the airlines that use it. Airport officials argue that that could lead to lower airfares overall.

Board members generally liked the retail idea but also urged caution.

"I think we need to be sure we look carefully before we step, especially if you look at where those possible wells are going to be," Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief said. "Obviously that's not going to be as big a deal to someone who's got a warehouse as it is to someone who has a restaurant or more pedestrian traffic."

Developing retail on the south side of the airport is a challenging proposition because the location is relatively far removed from one important retail ingredient -- homes where shoppers live, said Bob Ginsburg, vice president in CB Richard Ellis' Dallas office.

The center would also need to rely on shoppers from outside the area, not just airport patrons, he said. At least the north side of the airport is closer to dense apartment complexes and more housing, he said.

It may need a so-called destination retailer such as Ikea or Cabela's, he said.

"When you talk about large-format retailing, you need a lot of shoppers," Ginsburg said. "I'm not a person who would be very optimistic about a big-box development [there] -- unless it is a destination."

Staff writer Andrea Jares contributed to this report.

Copyright: The Fort Worth Star-Telegram -- 7/10/06