Ever thought of moving an entire city? Louisville International Airport (LIA) has created a one-of-a-kind noise mitigation initiative that has been cited as a national model and perked the ears of many airport communities globally. Following the completion of a 10-year+ expansion program, which included building a new airport on top of an existing airport, airport neighbors began realizing increased aircraft noise. As a result, the airport initiated a voluntary buy-out of the 500-home small class city of Minor Lane Heights, which is receiving the majority of the noise. But the residents of this long-established, close-knit community dreamed of remaining together. LIA, with the help of Weber Shandwick (WSW), and the residents of Minor Lane Heights worked together to create an innovative approach to move the city. It required out-of-the-box thinking, innovative financing, legislative approval, working committees, and a true partnership. There was a tremendous amount of community emotion involved, but working together effectively proved that sensitive issues such as disrupting neighborhoods and families could result in making dreams become reality. Today, LIA is moving the families away from airport noise, to the new city of Heritage Creek. Families are exchanging their old home for a brand new home, while retaining the comfort and security of living near familiar friends and neighbors.
The airport had relocated various neighborhoods during the 10-year expansion project and had earned a reputation of being insensitive to area neighbors. It had become a "them" against "us" media focus and the airport had lost trust amongst many in the community. WSW was enlisted to help the airport deal with the challenge of relocating the 500 residents of Minor Lane Heights, while considering the fact that Louisville's (comparable home) housing market was scarce, the small city wanted to remain a city, and relationships among residents, community leaders, government officials, and the airport were weak.
The local news media, as well as government leaders, had blasted Louisville International Airport for being insensitive to area neighbors. WSW's research and planning included a review of past communications and media attention, as well as attendance at public meetings to get a better sense of the residents’ concerns. We also met with Airport Authority officials, the relocation project manager, and City of Minor Lane Heights officials and residents to gain a better understanding of the issues and emotions involved with relocating families within a long-established, close-knit community. Our findings indicated Louisville International Airport needed to take a different approach, than used in the past, to relocating residents due to airport expansion and aircraft noise.
Our objective was to develop a program to encourage residents, community leaders and airport officials to work together to create an innovative housing solution that would meet the needs of the Airport, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the residents, while ensuring the affected residents would be a key element in the decision process. It was also important that the news media be well informed of the issues throughout the process.
To begin the process, we assisted the airport in enlisting the support of important partners, such as the airport's board of directors and management, the Minor Lane Heights elected officials, local governments, the Kentucky General Assembly, and the FAA to produce an innovative housing relocation program. And next, WSW helped the airport form a "Relocation Working Group" comprised of homeowners, management, local government, and interested citizens. The Relocation Working Group was involved in each and every step along the way -- from approaching the Kentucky Legislature for permission to relocate a city to selecting the property and approving land development and housing plans. They even named the new city.
WSW worked with the airport and the Relocation Working Group to develop a program that would relocate the city to a new area of the county and also allow homeowners to swap their existing home for a brand new home. Implementation included:
- Approaching the Kentucky General Assembly to gain legislative approval to relocate a city.
- Convincing the FAA that the relocation program was valid in an attempt to secure FAA support and funding in implementing the $30 million-plus relocation program.
WSW involvement included media training, speech training, and message development to assist the Airport and City officials at the state government level. In addition to organizing the Relocation Working Group meetings and developing various materials such as the Relocation Update newsletter to keep residents and community leaders informed of the program, WSW also planned and implemented community events at specific project milestones. And, we assisted the airport in conducting quarterly meetings between project managers, key public officials and interest groups, as well as periodic media briefings. WSW assisted airport board members and management in developing communication materials to gain FAA funding support of the non-traditional relocation program. Media relations counseling was also provided throughout the project.
The consensus among all parties was -- "We faced and won an uphill battle!" The program’s objectives were met and even exceeded. WSW was instrumental in all facets of the program, providing communication counsel and strategy. Perhaps the largest hurdle of all -- not only did the Kentucky General Assembly authorize the city to relocate lock, stock and barrel – it also granted permission for the city to exist in two non-contiguous locations simultaneously while the land for the new city was being developed. Other results include:
- The City of Minor Lane Heights, including its government and all residents who wish to participate, are moving as a unit, a feat that at one time seemed impossible. When the idea of moving the entire city was conceived, residents hoped, at best, to get a fair price for their homes, enabling them to purchase a comparable house elsewhere in the area. Instead the Innovative Housing Program has enabled them to exchange an old home, complete with inherent maintenance headaches and old-fashioned features, for a new, modern house with up-to-date amenities.
- The Relocation Working Group was instrumental in developing the program that is allowing homeowners to swap their existing home for a brand new home.
- The entire effort demonstrated that residents, community leaders, and the airport dared to think and act boldly. They broke new ground and demonstrated to the community that citizen involvement and working together can be innovative, effective advocates.
Airport board and management conceived an innovative approach to funding sources and secured $20 million in funding to implement its Innovative Housing Program of relocating a city, including $10 million from the FAA. (FAA had previously funded conventional relocation programs but had never in its history funded a “swap” program that allowed homeowners to turn in their new home for a brand, new one.) Other program milestones are:
- Residents are escaping airport noise.
- The Airport solved the problem of locating existing comparable-housing in a scarce housing market. The airport purchased a 287-acre site for the relocation. A model home village was construction in June 1999; the first families moved into their new homes in February 2000.
- Residents retain the benefits of an old, established community while acquiring comparable, but more modern homes at little or no cost to them.
- The FAA has called the program, believed to be the first of its kind in the world, a “model.”
- The airport's “Relocating A City” program has received a good amount of national and international publicity.