Steamboat Springs Local pilot and former Steamboat Springs Airport Commission Chairman Mike Forney said the new fixed-base operator facility that the city expects to complete in March will better serve an already significant economic driver for the community.
Steamboat started building the new facility in late October to replace the existing fixed-base operator space in the terminal at the city-owned and -operated airport.
“Not only are we not losing anything, but we’re gaining the thing that’s very important, which is economic stability,” said Forney, who left the Airport Commission in June after serving for six years. “With the use of the much larger terminal building for revenue generation, it takes a lot of pressure off the airport, and that’s a good thing.”
SmartWool, which leases the airport space not occupied by the fixed-base operator, agreed to extend its rental agreement with the city through 2022. As part of the agreement, the merino wool outfitter will repay a $946,000 city loan during the 10-year period at 3.5 percent interest to renovate the terminal ($596,000) and relocate the operator ($350,000).
Because it was more expensive to relocate the utilities to the new facility than the city anticipated, it is paying the difference of $81,623, said Public Works Director Philo Shelton, who oversees the airport operation.
After the new facility is complete and the fixed-base operator has moved, SmartWool will expand into the space.
The city opened the terminal building for commercial air service in 1993. Continental Express, which had daily flights from Denver, pulled out about a year later. Maverick Airlines used the airport briefly, but ultimately, commercial service stopped. The terminal was vacant until SmartWool first leased it in 2002.
Because the terminal wasn’t intended for use by a private business or even a fixed-base operator, it’s never been ideal.
“The existing space was originally designed for a commercial airport terminal,” Shelton said Thursday while walking inside the new facility. “This space is designed for private general aviation.”
Fixed-base operators provide aeronautical services for general aviation. They can be private, but the city operates the Steamboat airport. Its revenue comes primarily from selling fuel, which also generates sales taxes, in addition to the SmartWool rent.
Shelton said the new 2,700-square-foot facility, though slightly smaller than the existing operator space, was designed specifically to serve the pilots who used the airport to log more than 12,000 takeoffs and landings last year.
He said it would include a waiting area, staff counter to sell miscellaneous items, a conference room for training and meetings, staff work area, airport manager office, pilot’s office, pilot’s lounge, garage for storing airport equipment and a pickup area with restrooms and vending machines that would be accessible 24 hours a day.
“I think it will be good,” said pilot Mike Gagnebin, who also works part time for the fixed-base operator. “I think it will be more efficient for the operation, really.”
The building was sealed last week to prepare for interior work that will take place during winter. Shelton said exterior work, such as siding, would continue through winter as weather allows.
The agreement with SmartWool requires that the fixed-base operator vacate its space by April 1.
Forney said there’s a perception that the airport financially drains the city.
Although in many years it operates at a deficit supported by its reserves, Forney said it’s important to note that 95 percent of airside improvements are paid for by the Federal Aviation Administration. He said the remaining 5 percent is split between the city and state.
For example, he said federal funds provided $2.78 million of the nearly $2.92 million in rehabilitation and development at the airport in 2000.
Forney said 115 aircraft are based at the airport. He said there are 34 private hangars and 10 owned by the city with another six approved for construction.
Of those aircraft owners, Forney said 35 percent are owned by people who own businesses or do business in the community.
“That’s where you begin talking about economic impact,” he said. “It’s clear some business is created here because some people have access to their own airplane in Steamboat Springs to do business in the community — location-neutral businesses and so forth.”
To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com