Steamboat Springs A proposal for executive hangars at Steamboat Springs Airport renewed discussions this week about how the facility should expand in the future and whether its fixed-base operations should be privatized.
City staff supported a proposal from Dallas-based MSF Development to build as many as eight executive hangars, potentially for larger, jet-fueled aircraft, on about 2 acres just south of the airport’s terminal building off Routt County Road 129. The proposal also includes a new taxiway between the two rows of proposed hangars and an access road. City Manager Jon Roberts, Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord and Public Works Director Philo Shelton recommended moving forward with preliminary design planning and ground-lease negotiations with MSF, citing the potential for immediate revenues and economic development. Steamboat Springs City Council, however, voted, 4-3, on Tuesday to postpone action until June 1. The decision followed a lengthy discussion about potential impacts to the airport’s long-term future — resuming a debate that has continued for years in Steamboat.
Council members Jon Quinn, Kenny Reisman and Jim Engelken voted against postponing the hangar proposal. Quinn said it’s long been a goal of the city and Steamboat Springs Airport “to bring in this kind of clientele” and “make sure we have these kind of services available for these kind of customers in Steamboat Springs.” Reisman also cited the goal of a vibrant airport, and Engelken said he supported staff’s recommendation.
But discussions about SmartWool created a turning point in the conversation.
The growing company leases part of the airport’s terminal building. Several council members and Roberts cited SmartWool’s potential to expand into the space the airport currently uses for its fixed-base operations. The airport’s FBO provides services such as fuel sales and general amenities.
Such an expansion by SmartWool likely would move the airport’s FBO into a modular building until the construction of a new, upgraded FBO facility.
“A trailer for however many years … is a big problem,” Councilwoman Meg Bentley said, supporting the idea of combining a hangar expansion with a new or remodeled FBO facility.
SmartWool President Mark Satkiewicz said the company’s expansion into the FBO space is “a possibility, (but) certainly not something that we’ve committed to.”
Satkiewicz said SmartWool is very committed to Steamboat.
“What we’ve been doing is talking to the city about our future and about what we could do at this facility … but that’s about as far as it’s gone,” he said. “We’re growing, and we’ve got to evaluate how we can continue to maximize our space here at the airport.”
SmartWool’s lease at the airport ends in September 2012.
“I think the best economic development is taking care of the businesses you have in town,” City Council President Cari Hermacinski said, citing a need to continue conversations with SmartWool. “I think we’re making a decision without asking some really important questions of our existing businesses.”
‘Bird in the hand’
Council members also raised questions Tuesday about whether allowing a private developer to build and harness revenues from executive hangars, and moving FBO services into a modular building, would reduce the airport’s attractiveness for a potential private FBO buyer in the future.
Roberts said there are “substantial other hangar opportunities” at the airport. On Thursday, airport operations manager Will Rogers showed plans at the airport that reveal room for significant hangar development north of the terminal building.
A study by Armstrong Consultants, completed in 2008, identified $40 million in recommended improvements at the airport during the next 20 years, with all but $1 million covered by federal and state grants.
Airport manager Mel Baker said the airport has a surplus of hangars. He said jet sales are trending upward and “the revenue source is immediate” from larger, executive-style hangars, through fuel sales and developers’ lease of the ground.
“It will take the airport to another level,” Baker said about MSF’s proposal. “Executive-type aircraft, larger aircraft is something we don’t have right now. … This is something we’ve wanted for as long as I’ve been around.”
Longtime airport user Bob Maddox, of Mountain Flight Services, submitted one of three other proposals for hangar development. Maddox expressed concern with the process behind MSF’s proposal. DuBord said MSF submitted an unsolicited proposal in February, causing the city to put out a request for proposals on the project.
Maddox said MSF had an advantage from the start.
“We feel a little bit like we were allowed into the horse race after the first horse is around the corner,” he told City Council.
Maddox said his proposal would return a percentage of profits to the city for future capital development at the airport.
Clay Curtis, MSF’s vice president of sales, said MSF already has buyers in place for the hangars it would build.
“We don’t spec-build,” he said. “Once we get going, we’ve never not completed (a hangar project) because we have money up front.”
Roberts called MSF’s proposal a “bird in the hand” situation. He said city staff will use the time until June 1 to continue discussions about airport facilities.
“We would go back out to SmartWool and explore with them what their timing is and what their needs are,” Roberts said.