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[IMGCAP(1)]FORT WORTH-Beginning in March, the Hillwood team will realize a long-awaited dream to start $210 million of infrastructure improvements in the Westport corridor of AllianceTexas. Ticketed for completion in 2011, the project will open up 150 acres for development, all with “through-the-fence” access to the BNSF intermodal yard and a rarity outside major ports.

The project calls for the relocation of a five-mile stretch of FM 156 and the parallel BNSF tracks plus a 1,400-foot extension to the 9,600-foot runway at Fort Worth Alliance Airport. “It’s going to be very exciting,” says Tony Crème, vice president of Hillwood Properties. “We always knew 156 would get relocated and open up hundreds of acres for us.”

The 150 acres will have FM 156 at its front door, the intermodal yard at its rear door and a private road bisecting the land so future tenants can have a no weight-limit thruway directly into the BNSF hub. Based on Hillwood’s typical 40% coverage, the land will support roughly 2.6 million sf–all planned to be leased build-to-suits.

“We’re not going to sell any of this,” Crème tells GlobeSt.com. “It’s extremely valuable land and very limited.” And, he confides, there is one deal already working and another that’s about to be pursued.

Tim Ward, president of Hillwood-owned Alliance Air/Aviation Services, says the road relocation begins in March, with the rail line due to be moved in 2009. The last piece will be the runway extension. The road relocation is projected to cost $40 million, the rail relocation will take $85 million and the $85-million balance is going to land acquisitions and airfield improvements, according to Ward.

To date, 2.4 million yards of dirt has been dumped in the project area. Ward says another six months to one year is needed to update the airport’s environmental assessment and acquire some additional rights-of way. “We’ve done all we can until we get the rail and highway out of there,” he says.

Hillwood has had the runway extension on its drawing board since 1991, one year after AllianceTexas started to push out of the ground. “The end is now in sight,” Ward says, adding Hillwood is positioned to bump the runway to 13,000 feet if it wants.

Ward says Memphis-based FedEx Corp.’s need to deploy larger cargo planes to Anchorage is underwriting the 1,400-foot runway extension. The company now operates one daily round-trip flight to Alaska, where it has a staging ground for shipments to Asia.

Ward says the longer runway could lure more freight-forwarding companies to Fort Worth Alliance Airport. Right now, companies are clustering around to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

“It’s a matter of time and demand before we see that activity grow,” Ward says, “but we need to have the infrastructure in place for when the opportunity comes along.” That’s a philosophy that Hillwood applies even to its spec development, always keeping about one million sf of ready-to-go space on hand as a bargaining chip for when deals hit the streets.

[IMGCAP(2)]Hillwood is under construction with a 572,500-sf spec distribution center that will deliver in June. Westport 20, fronting Intermodal Parkway, will sit at the hard corner with FM 156 after its relocation and across the street from the 150 acres. It is being built at the gateway of the BNSF yard. “It’s going to position us and our users right there outside the front gate,” Crème says.

The Westport corridor has four million sf of the 28 million sf in the 17,000-acre AllianceTexas. The east-to-west Westport Parkway eventually will run the full length of AllianceTexas. On the east side, dirt is flying on a 788,160-sf build-to-suit for an unidentified user, who’s playing it close to the vest for awhile longer before talking about the plans. The structure delivers in the second quarter.

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