From left to right: Rients Dijkstra, professor of urban design, Delft University; Phillip Bouteiller, CEO of TXL Berlin; and Katrina Sichel speaking at the 2017 ULI Netherlands Conference.

From left to right: Rients Dijkstra, professor of urban design, Delft University; Phillip Bouteiller, CEO of TXL Berlin; and moderator Katrina Sichel, a consultant with Wit and Word Communications, speaking at the 2017 ULI Netherlands Conference.

For more than 20 million passengers annually, Tegel Airport is the gateway to Berlin. As a new international airport is being built, an ambitious project is intended to transform Tegel into an “urban tech republic.”

Berlin has been experiencing rapid growth, especially in the tech sector. Startup investment in Berlin outpaced that seen in London in 2015, and with the cost of living substantially lower in the German capital, the city could be set for even more growth in the event of a full Brexit. The important thing is to “build something you’re not going to regret,” Tegel Projects CEO Phillip Bouteiller said at the recent ULI Netherlands Annual Conference in Amsterdam.

The plan for Tegel Airport (TXL) includes an industrial park, a university campus, commercial space, a residential area, and open landscape. It all starts with Terminal D, which will be a 61,000-square-foot (5,700 sq m) base camp for startups and coworking. Then comes Terminal A, which comprises 468,000 square feet (43,500 sq m) that will include the Beuth University for Applied Sciences, and Terminal B, which will contain a conference center in its 274,000 square feet (25,500 sq m). Later, smaller additional hangars and buildings will be adapted. The plan anticipates that the finished project’s research and industrial park will create up to 20,000 jobs.

From 2016 to 2019, the city has committed €70 million (US$79.8 million) to the Tegel Project—€176 million (US$200.6 million) including the university. The Schumacher Quarter, a new residential area with up to 5,000 housing units, will be car-free—mobility hubs on the edges of the area will offer parking and charging stations. “We’re trying to reconcile nature and city. Bring in the green, bring nature back in to drive cars and pollution out,” Bouteiller said.

Although Tegel’s master plan has been set and rated platinum by the German Sustainable Building Council, the exact timeline for the 1,223-acre (495 ha) project is still undetermined.

The new Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) is being built next to Berlin-Schönefeld International Airport (SXF) on the southern edge of the city, and Berlin plans to phase out Tegel when BER is operational. But BER, initially supposed to open in 2012, is now five years behind schedule—experts believe now it would open in 2019 at the earliest. “We Germans are very punctual, except when it comes to airports,” Bouteiller joked.

A recent survey found that more than two-thirds of Berliners want to keep Tegel operating as an airport even after BER is open, largely because of its proximity to the city center and accessibility from the northern suburbs. But if Tegel were to continue operating, updates and upkeep would cost the city about €100 million (US$114 million) per year. A referendum on Tegel will be on the ballots for the national election in September.

Officials at the Tegel Project have been using the extra time to perfect their planning. Utility channels under the main roads will allow wires and pipes to be easily upgraded. Multifunctional streetlamps will have cameras, environmental sensors, charging ports, and public wi-fi as well as provide light.

The airport-repurposing project has a local precedent: Tempelhof Airport was closed in 2008 and reopened as a public park in 2010. Lufthansa was founded in 1926 at the airport, which was expanded under Nazi rule and then after World War II was home to the U.S. Air Force, which conducted its famous airlifts from the field. Tempelhof was the busiest airport in the city until Tegel was expanded in 1975. Now, Tempelhof Field is a 741-acre (300 ha) green space enjoyed year-round, and the airport building is partially used for businesses and refugee housing. The city has committed €53.8 million (US$61.4 million) to turning the airport into a creative district and moving the Allied Museum to the site.