Chandler has pegged the largely undeveloped area surrounding Chandler Municipal Airport as a major employment base that could eventually house tens of thousands of jobs.
Chandler Boulevard is no longer the boundary that divides Chandler into urban and rural segments.
The Santan Freeway changed all that by making the city's southern portion high-speed accessible from anywhere in the Valley.
Now the city has pegged the largely undeveloped area surrounding Chandler Municipal Airport as a major employment base that could eventually house tens of thousands of jobs, said Lori Quan, Chandler economic development specialist.
"It's Chandler's last frontier," Quan said.
The Chandler Airpark is a nine-square-mile box of land that stretches from Pecos Road south to Ocotillo Road, and Arizona Avenue east to Gilbert Road.
The Santan Freeway slices through the top quarter, and the centerpiece, of course, is the city's general aviation airport, one of the 50 busiest in the country.
A few housing developments have popped up north of the freeway and south of the airport, along with supermarket-anchored neighborhood shopping centers to serve them.
About a dozen aviation-based small businesses and a few others have clustered around the airport environs.
And a handful of significant employers, such as Covance, CDW and Cardinal Health, have bigger digs in the airpark area.
But most of the nine square miles is still undeveloped farm fields or clusters of large office buildings with empty parking lots and blank tenant directories.
Appearances don't tell the whole story, though. Only about 10 percent of the vast airpark land is uncommitted, Quan said.
Developers have dibs on almost all the property, but understandably they aren't digging up dirt in a down economy, she said.
Among them, the Rockefeller Group Development Corp., a national owner, developer and manager of prestigious commercial properties, chose a 77-acre chunk of the airpark for its first Arizona project, Quan said.
Rockefeller just got the green light to start building roads, waterlines, and other needs that will make the land ready to develop as soon as the market recovers, she said.
Some developers have built speculative buildings, started in flusher times. Now they house huge empty office suites and cavernous warehousing and manufacturing space. "They were just completed at the wrong time," Quan said.
But a few have landed some smaller tenants, and others are getting big nibbles, she said.
A 45,000-square-foot light industrial building in Chandler Airport Center "has been short-listed by a user we're very excited about," she said.
Chandler's office vacancy now tops 20 percent, and the portion of industrial space empty is nearing 12 percent, Quan said, adding that that rate is probably higher at the airpark. But she remains optimistic.
"It's quality inventory with great freeway access," Quan said. "We never like to see vacant buildings, but the assets are so strong that when the market turns around (the immediately available space) has positioned us well."
The demographics of the surrounding area also add to the desirability of the airpark, said Mindy Korth, executive vice president of CB Richard Ellis, who also sees the area's potential.
"The labor pool is fabulous," said Korth, an executive board member for the Valley Partnership, an organization of greater Phoenix's movers and shakers aimed at promoting responsible growth. "A diverse population of workers can get there in a reasonably minimal commute.
"When the market starts recovering, this area will be one of the first to recover," Korth said. "It's well-located, has tremendous demographics. Employers will catch on to what tremendous opportunity they have in that labor pool."