Airport looks for city's help to buy adjacent land

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— A month after the City Council voted to lease land to a developer to build hangars at the Steamboat Springs Airport, it is being asked to show another sign of commitment this time to the tune of $33,000.

Before the city is a grant application that would bring in $300,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration, but it requires a match of $33,000 from the city. If granted, the money will be used to acquire four acres of land adjacent to the airport.

Airport Manager Matt Grow said the airport has been eligible for the grant for two years but carried over last year's $150,000 entitlement to help purchase the land with this year's combined total of $300,000.

Because the proposed land south of the terminal borders the runway, it raises safety concerns, Grow said, and it has been a priority in the past few years for the airport to purchase the parcel.

"The land is extremely close to the runway. It's an environment we want to protect," Grow said. "Someone else could possibly put a building there."

While the land could be used as a taxiway or to build ramps, Grow said no structures, including hangars, would be put on the purchased land.

The request to match the grant comes after the council gave a long-term commitment in early March to the airport. The council agreed to sign a ground lease with Dunn Properties out of Denver that will lease 30 acres to the company for 40 years of hangar construction.

That decision brought opposition from former City Council members, who believed the airport's land could be used in other ways, and Routt County Commissioners, who have discussed creating a combined airport authority with the city.

At Tuesday night's council meeting, Councilman Paul Strong recommended to wait until the April 23 meeting before making a decision on the grant.

The grant application will be among the many other budget items discussed in a meeting that is scheduled to revaluate the city's finance. While the winter's sales tax revenue is not as high as the city had planned before Sept. 11, it is also not as low as the numbers predicted after the attacks. The April 23 meeting will give the council a chance to look into reallocating the money it had cut last fall from capital projects and nonprofit budgets.

Strong did admit a grant providing $300,000 for the city's $33,000 was enticing, but other items that could be added back into the budget also had to be considered.

"Any time there is a 10 percent match, that is an attractive proposal" Strong said. "That was the reason for (waiting until April 23). You can't look at each one in a vacuum. You need to look at it and compare it to other needs in the community."

Although the city does have an airport fund, Strong said the money would eventually come out of the general fund because the airport has been operating on a deficit, unable to break even on its annual $100,000 operating cost.

The council did pass on Tuesday a motion that approved the grant in the case the application had to be submitted to the FAA before the April 23 meeting. If the grant were given to the city, the matching funds would not have to be provided for another four months to a year, Grow said.

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