Could an ‘Airport City’ be coming to Newark?

A new report from the New York Building Congress, a construction industry trade association, envisions an entirely new city – about the size of Hoboken – sprouting up in the 480 acres surrounding Newark Liberty International Airport.

Airport City, as it’s referred to in the report, would contain 11 million square feet of new office and commercial space, four million square feet for airport logistics, a new 300-room hotel and at least 3,500 units of new housing. Not to mention another 130 acres of open space, including bike lanes, a promenade and new parks.

“I think if you look at opportunities across this country of where you can build housing, entertainment, hotels, etc. – obviously near an airport where there’s transportation and roads … we thought it was just ripe for some sort of long-term, bigger planning and larger thought process than just rebuilding terminals and roads,” said Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of New York Building Congress.

A concept of this magnitude would give even the most optimistic of city planners pause, but some of the items in the report are actually already underway, like the $2.7 billion Terminal One Project at Newark Liberty and the plan to replace the people-moving AirTrain.

“We are committed to getting this project done on time and on budget and it is only the beginning,” said Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in October. “We are building a brand new Newark Airport AirTrain, and we are committed to starting on the process of replacing Terminal B with a new Terminal Two. We are committed to a world-class Newark Airport.”

The Port Authority also has green-lighted extension of PATH service to the airport, which would travel through a mostly industrial south Newark neighborhood, making housing and commercial development feasible. Improvements to NJ Transit’s Elizabeth train station have also begun.

Additionally, the report envisions NJ Transit running like the NJ Transit of old, which the governor is promising but not yet delivering.

“We will fix NJ Transit if it kills me, which it might, I hope not at this moment,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in November.

But the report also calls for the Gateway Tunnel to be funded and completed in order to accommodate more high-speed express trains on the Northeast Corridor.

“I certainly think that this report hits the nail right on the head in terms of the future of development being sustainable, equitable development that’s centered around transit hubs,” said Janna Chernetz, director of New Jersey Policy with the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “Gone are the days of suburban sprawl and office parks, which you know induce dependency on automobiles.”

If it ever got built, Airport City would make current day Newark seem quaint by comparison. But on questions surrounding how much it would cost and how long the project take, no one seems to have any idea.