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City Airport Buzzing, Property-Buying Frenzy to Ensue?

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Unlike most empty and underfunded things in Detroit, the tenacious City Airport has not been allowed to wait quietly for someone to set it on fire. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that the airport remain functioning, which is a verb unfamiliar to this particular airport. The runways are so narrow that they violate FAA regulations and so short that most commercial jets can't use them. So why keep the airport open?

Turns out, designing and testing drones is what our airport and its puny runways were born for. With recent federal funding, at least five new companies are setting up shop in the terminal, which they've named Aero Tech Town. Cute! While that's all great news, the runways are still too close to the adjoining neighborhood, which needs to be addressed if the airport is to have a future. The solution? Restart an eighteen-year-old fiasco known as the French Road Mini-Take, which means buying and leveling the adjoining neighborhood.

As Detroiters, we're not unused to seeing grids of empty streets where neighborhoods once thrived. The neighborhood cradled by the L-shape of the airport tarmac is a good example. But if you avoid the streets blocked by walls of tires or cement barriers, you'll find a street grid skeleton nothing like those of Brush Park or Delray. It's ominously massive, vaguely frightening, and is the result of an eighteen year campaign by the FAA and Detroit to widen City Airport.

But the French Road Mini-Take has not gone well. When the plan was first introduced, property speculators snapped up much of the neighborhood, hoping to be bought out by the city. Some owners were paid sums much larger than their home's worth, while others have yet to even be approached. The process was so slow that many simply allowed their properties to fall into foreclosure. Today, much of the area is owned by the city or the airport.

Now that the airport is exhibiting signs of life, there's a concern that speculators might be back. The area didn't see much action in the recent tax auction, but news of City Airport's activity is just gaining attention. Will the city finish what it started, or will City Airport fall back into irrelevance? Stay tuned.

· Wings of Fortune [dbusiness]