Already a huge presence in the Charleston area, Boeing Co. could get a lot bigger.
The aerospace giant is looking at an undeveloped tract at Charleston International Airport to add another line of business, according to Chip Limehouse, chairman of the Charleston County Aviation Authority and a Republican state House representative.
"Boeing has come to us and asked us for a huge portion of our land," Limehouse said during an Aviation Authority meeting Thursday in front of a packed room of contractors and airport officials. "Boeing is going to come here and build another line."
His eyebrow-raising remarks came during a presentation by Airports Director Sue Stevens on plans for a new air cargo terminal on some of the same property Boeing is interested in between Michaux Parkway and the passenger parking areas near the airport terminal.
Stevens was seeking board approval of the site plan so she could present it to the Federal Aviation Administration, which must sign off on any airport additions before they can move forward.
The board deferred approval of the site plan to a later date because of Limehouse's concern that Boeing is also looking at the airport property.
"Every scrap of land out here is extremely valuable," he said. "The planning we do now is going to dictate what we have in the future."
In a later telephone interview, Limehouse said, "We definitely want an air cargo facility at the airport, but we want to make sure we are able to fit it in with all the other things, such as rail access, more parking and future economic development needs."
Hoping not to jeopardize talks with Boeing, he declined to elaborate on any possible Boeing expansion except to say, "There is talk of the potential for another line."
The revelation occurred two months after an airport committee met in secret talks with Boeing lawyer Mark Fava to discuss contractual matters involving real estate.
A Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman said she hadn't heard of Limehouse's comments and declined to respond to them specifically.
"As a matter of company policy, we don't comment on pending or future transactions," Candy Eslinger said. "But we continue to review our real estate portfolio as part of our due diligence to maintain our competitiveness."
Boeing regularly develops scenarios and evaluates options, Eslinger said, "just to make sure that we maintain the right mix of office and manufacturing space to meet our needs."
Boeing assembles the 787 Dreamliner passenger jet at its sprawling campus at the airport, where it has more than 6,000 employees.
The entire Charleston International site encompasses about 1,300 acres. Of that, Boeing leases 267 acres, and airport operations accounts for about 383 acres, Stevens said.
The Aviation Authority has about 650 acres of undeveloped land on the opposite side of International Boulevard from Boeing's campus, but only about half of it is unrestricted, Stevens added. That property straddles Michaux Parkway, which has been considered for realignment to relieve congestion on International and make room for future development.
The site proposed for the air cargo facility and other uses is about 100 acres. The air cargo terminal would encompass about 20 acres and be built as demand arises, Stevens said. If the demand is there, it could be constructed at the same time that the 27-year-old airport terminal undergoes a $150 million expansion and renovation over the next three years.
FedEx currently makes almost daily overnight deliveries and uses the apron on the terminal building's west side, an area also used by airlines.
"If the terminal grows, it would expand in that direction," Stevens said.
An air cargo facility would allow more space for future expansion of the terminal and be a shared facility.
The proposed site of the air cargo facility would also include more parking for airport employees and tenants as well as future spillover parking for air passengers, Stevens said.
About 1,200 people work at the airport, and they park in two lots designed for 360 cars near the terminal's airline ticketing counters, she said. Not all of the workers are there at the same time, but more space will be needed for airport workers as the airport expands.
"It's a vibrant, growing place," she said.
Brendan Kearney contributed to this report. Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.
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