A project like SkyBridge has been a goal of local development organizations since Williams Air Force Base reopened as a commercial airport in 1994.

Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is working with a private Mexican developer to create a 360-acre mixed-use business park adjacent to the airport that could turn into a preeminent destination for American exporters by bringing Mexican customs officers to the East Valley.

Those officers would pre-clear American cargo bound for Mexico – a draw for American companies that do business in Mexico.

Currently, only select airports in Mexico have customs officers on hand to inspect incoming goods, which restricts the number of airports American businesses can use when shipping goods into the country.

With Mexican customs officers on site, Gateway Airport could open up access to over a hundred additional airports in Mexico that do not have customs inspection services, according to information provided at the East Valley Partnership Aviation and Aerospace Committee’s October meeting.

Increased access to Mexico would appeal to companies like Amazon and potentially allow the online retail giant to expand its two-day shipping service to the Mexican market, said Roc Arnett, former president and CEO of the East Valley Partnership.

Earlier this year, the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with Mesa SkyBridge.

The document is a precursor to an official Master Development Agreement and lays out a broad description of what the future development, tentatively known as SkyBridge AZ, would look like.

Gov. Doug Ducey likely will officially announce the project after Thanksgiving along with trade representatives from Mexico and the White House.

Mesa SkyBridge LLC is operated by Carlos Puente and Sky Plus Development Corp., according to Arizona Corporation Commission documents.

That appears to be the same group behind a similar project in Mexico called Sky Plus Logistics & Aerospace Park. That development – a nearly 200-acre project geared toward manufacturing and logistics companies – is under construction at Guanajuato International Airport.

Puente is alternatively referred to as development director and CEO of Sky Plus in reports from the Mexican manufacturing and export publication “Mexico Industry.”

Gateway Airport development’s connection to Mexico is a significant part of the proposed project as a portion would be set aside for Mexican and U.S customs facilities.

On Aug. 23, Kevin K. McAleenan, acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, met with a Mexican trade representative in San Diego and agreed to a bilateral trade agreement.

A part of that agreement allows Mexican customs officers to work beside U.S. CBP officers in U.S. airports under a Unified Cargo Processing program, said Teresa Small, Customs and Border Patrol affairs liaison.

The Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority anticipates that the August decision will result in the relocation of Mexican customs officials from Laredo, Texas, to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and that “this is a tremendous opportunity to increase cargo activity at Gateway Airport,” according to minutes from the board’s monthly meeting in September.

Small confirmed that the agency had received a request from the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority to station Mexican customs officers with CBP officers at the airport. However, she stated that they are “just in talks” at the moment and no official decision has been made.

“It is not so much a real estate play as it is a logistics play,” Arnett said.

CBP officers and Mexican customs officers already work together at select borders in Arizona as part of the Unified Cargo Processing program. That program began in Nogales at the Mariposa Port of Entry in July 2016 and since has expanded to San Luis and Douglas, Small said.

The concept has resulted in a reduction in transaction costs for select businesses shipping cargo between the U.S. and Mexico, said William K. Brooks, CBP Tucson director of field operations, in a video prepared by the agency.

The program has resulted in a time savings of around three hours for qualified shipments passing through the border, Mexican Customs Commissioner Ricardo Treviño said in the video.

Arnett added companies could take advantage of the Foreign Trade Zone in the Mesa Gateway area to ship products into the U.S. for additional manufacturing and then send them to Mexico without paying additional taxes.

Mexico is the No. 1 foreign destination for Arizona exports, accounting for 30 percent of all Arizona exports to foreign markets, according to Arizona-Mexico Economic Indicators from University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.

Despite that impact on the state’s economy, Arizona accounted for only 6.5 percent of exports from border states to Mexico in 2016. That ranked ahead of New Mexico but well behind Texas (72.3 percent) and California (19.9 percent).

While Arizona is not likely to close that gap completely, the new development at Gateway Airport could help Arizona “get a larger fair share” of exports to Mexico, Arnett said.

The U.S. and Mexico Customs facilities accounts for only about a quarter of the proposed project, with the rest of the space reserved for commercial and industrial uses.

A majority of the development – 169 acres – would go toward warehouse and light industrial space.

The development, previously referred to as Gateway Aerospace Park, would also include a retail and hotel element at the entrance of the park that would cover approximately 11 acres.

It also would include 38 acres of office space and 60 acres dedicated to airport uses, including a taxiway, detention basins, utilities, roadways and open spaces.

The memorandum calls for the airport to maintain ownership of the property and sign a 49-year lease with the developer.

Under the agreement, Mesa SkyBridge is responsible for building 100 percent of the “horizontal infrastructure” needed for the development. Horizontal infrastructure typically refers to things like roads, water and sewage lines and stormwater drains.

The vertical infrastructure, such as the buildings themselves, would be developed jointly by Mesa SkyBridge, PMGAA and “local and foreign partners” in the form of build-to-suit structures designed for specific tenants.

A project like SkyBridge has been a goal of local development organizations since Williams Air Force Base reopened as a commercial airport in 1994.

Arnett referred to it as a “25-year developing success” and noted that it is not the only proposed development that could draw major attention from local and national businesses.

Arizona State University is planning to develop a research complex similar to its existing Research Park in Tempe near the airport and is working with world-renowned design firm Sasaki on the project, Arnett said.

He added that the university is about a month away from meeting with the city of Mesa about the infrastructure needs for the project.

– Reach Wayne Schutsky at 480-898-6533 or wschutsky@timespublications.com.

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