Large-scale Development

A Teleport Proposal for Cordoba
David Amborski and Douglas Keare, September 1, 1998

Changes in the global economy, telecommunications and transportation systems are causing cities throughout the world to look at large-scale development projects as a way to restructure land uses and stimulate the local economy. For example, large, well-located areas previously occupied by railroad facilities and related transportation and industrial uses have been left abandoned in many mid-sized cities as more goods are now shipped in containers from a small number of major ports and terminals.

Statutory restrictions on state-owned enterprises have limited options to release these underutilized lands to the private market or to develop them as public projects. With increased privatization and the removal of restrictions, these properties would appear to be ideal locations for successful public/private development partnerships. However, while such monumental urban developments may seem like a panacea, they also raise many concerns about implementation and unanticipated impacts on other neighborhoods of the city, as well as competition with other cities.

Cordoba is representative of cities engaged in strategic planning to restructure local land uses under conditions of a changing macroeconomic and institutional environment. One of the key questions for these cities is to what extent can a major new development, in this case a teleport, effectively stimulate economic diversity and revitalize a neglected area.

Conditions in Cordoba

The City of Cordoba, with a population of approximately 1.3 million people, is strategically located in the geographic center of Argentina and has well-established linkages to the capital of Buenos Aires and to major cities in Chile, Brazil and Uruguay. Cordoba has long been an industrial center focusing on the production of cars, planes, trains and machinery, as well as consumer goods such as food, shoes, clothing and leather products. More recently, the city has expanded its service sector for both local and regional needs.

As Argentina has experienced economic stabilization and restructuring of its economy, Cordoba has gained greater potential to become a thriving center of Mercosur, the regional business district of south central South America. However, one of the city’s most vexing obstacles remains its competition with Buenos Aires.

Like many Latin American cities, Cordoba is also experiencing increased decentralization, movement toward a polycentric urban structure, and related socio-economic problems. Several years ago the city embarked on a strategic planning process that involved a broad cross-section of constituencies and resulted in a 1996 plan that identified some immediate economic development needs and other matters requiring further analysis and implementation.

As part of an ongoing collaboration between city officials and the Lincoln Institute, a seminar held in Cordoba in April 1997 examined the regulation and promotion of the land market. (1) One high-priority idea that emerged from those discussions related to the development of a teleport on underutilized central-city land. A committee formed to address the planning and implementation of such a facility included municipal officials, private sector business interests and members of the local university community.

The teleport envisioned for Cordoba is a mixed-use development comprising office space, convention facilities and hotels along with other ancillary land uses. The provision of state-of-the-art office facilities is considered a key objective to meet the city’s needs as both a regional center and a national location for some firms. These facilities will have elaborate telecommunications infrastructure and will be developed with a combination of public and private sector investment. One of the first projects is to be a hotel developed by the municipality within an historic structure.

The proposed location for the teleport is a 40-hectare site in the center of the city adjacent to the Suquia River. The site includes old railway lines and has good access to major roads linking the Mercosur region. The land is currently in both public and private ownership, and it is anticipated that some land transfers will be required to undertake the project.

Observations and Recommendations

To help the committee finalize its plans for the teleport, the city of Cordoba and the Lincoln Institute organized a second seminar in April 1998 to discuss concerns about implementation of the project. Comparative case studies of large-scale public/private developments in Toronto, Canada, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, provided useful perspectives on the problems and challenges faced by those cities and offered lessons for examining the design and likely prospects for the proposed teleport.

A key consideration is the teleport’s large scale relative to the existing local market, which suggests, at the very least, that the project needs to be phased in to ensure orderly development. Related to the project’s size are its impacts on other land in the city, including sites that have the potential for similar types of development. The relative attractiveness of the chosen site may adversely affect development of non-residential land uses in other designated growth areas of the city. At the same time, it is important to understand the depth and strength of the market for the specific uses intended for the proposed teleport site.

A related concern is the project’s potential negative impacts on existing and expanding residential neighborhoods in the area. On the other hand, the success of the teleport development could benefit the neighborhood if the residents are integrated into the planning and implementation process.

Among the lessons to be learned from other cities’ experience is the value of having a manageable set of objectives, and some seminar participants feared that the Cordoba committee was being overly ambitious. A second lesson regards the need for extreme care in selecting the location for a major new development. While the target location for the teleport was not considered deficient in any specific respect, it had not been selected as the result of a systematic analysis. Rather, this is a case where the city is trying to take advantage of an opportunity to develop a plan for an available site that urgently calls for reuse.

A third admonition came from the private sector, which has special needs in terms of access, infrastructure and costs. Some qualified market research can shed light on a host of issues including the extent to which Cordoba could hope to compete with Buenos Aires as a local or regional headquarters for domestic or international firms. Clearly the intended private sector beneficiaries must be involved directly in the conceptual development and planning of the project.

Several weeks after the seminar, the city commissioned a study to aid the implementation strategy for the teleport based on these concerns and recommendations. The study will also investigate potential instruments to effect land value capture to provide infrastructure financing and mechanisms to structure the kinds of public/private partnerships that appear to be necessary for the success of the teleport project.

A final general observation is that officials in Cordoba, or any city considering large-scale urban development, need to move rapidly beyond the study phase and establish training and other support systems for local leaders and practitioners to enhance their capacity to manage the project. Skills and experience are needed to assess the functioning of land markets, develop requisite technical capabilities, negotiate with the private sector, and oversee financial management, utility regulation, property taxation, land regulations and their complex interactions. The challenge in any such undertaking is to balance sufficient planning and research with the need to take advantage of development opportunities as they arise and to learn from the process as it evolves.

David Amborski is professor in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto. Douglas Keare, a senior fellow of the Lincoln Institute, has experience with strategic planning for large cities in developing countries.

1. See “Strategic Planning in Cordoba,” Douglas Keare and Ricardo Vanella, Land Lines, September 1997.

Figure 1: Questions for Large-scale Developments

These topics and questions guided the seminar discussions in Cordoba, and they may be useful to other cities considering large-scale development projects on underutilized urban lands.

Understanding the Land Market: How will the local land market respond to large-scale public interventions such as the proposed teleport? What is the demand capacity for state-of-the-art office buildings in the region? What are the potential mechanisms for intervening in the land market to enhance the chances of success for this type of project?

The Urban Impacts of Large Projects on Underutilized Land: What are the impacts of this type of large-scale project on adjacent lands and competitive locations within the metropolitan area? How can infrastructure use be optimized? What alternatives could be explored to change the existing zoning structure?

Instruments of Promoting and Financing Private Investments in Urban Regeneration Projects: What financial instruments can be used in this type of development in conjunction with private sector participation? What instruments for private investments have been most successful? How can these be used with public/private partnerships? What benefits, disadvantages or complications might result from these partnerships?

Mechanisms of Redistribution and Land Value Capture: How can incremental land value be identified and estimated? How can land value capture schemes be used up front to finance the infrastructure for this project? What alternative instruments may be used for this purpose? What institutional reforms or partnerships might be necessary to implement these schemes and to serve as incentives for further development?