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Tue, Oct. 15

Prescott eyeing new terminal for airport

PRESCOTT –For the past three decades, progress at the Prescott Airport has been fairly static, but the Prescott City Council members say that needs to change.

The council conducted a workshop Tuesday to talk about airport leasing issues, but the discussion ended up focusing more on the airport's long-term needs.

And council members appeared united on one point: a new terminal at the airport is long overdue.

Mayor Sam Steiger maintained that the Prescott airport has needed a new terminal for as long as 30 years.

"We've really messed up; we've stalled this thing for a long, long time," Steiger said. "If we got a good terminal, there would be a good deal more activity (at the airport) almost immediately."

Councilman Tom Reilly noted that today's airport looks almost the same as it did more than 20 years ago when he first saw it. Others on the council said the lack of progress dates back even further and that the airport has stayed relatively the same for as long as 30 years.

And during that time, council members said, a new terminal has been a consistent priority.

"If today was the ribbon-cutting ceremony (for a terminal), it would still be a little late," Reilly said.

In fact, Airport Manager Rick Severson said the consultant who is working on a plan for the airport will focus soon on the preliminary plans and costs of a terminal. "That's the last piece of the consultant's study," he said.

That information should go to the council in about late June, Severson said.

He and City Manager Larry Asaro agreed that a terminal is a high priority at the airport. But it is also an expensive project. Severson estimated that a terminal could cost about $5 million.

"For the last 30 years (the city) has run into the same problem – it's the money," Asaro told the council.

Severson said a large portion of the total cost could come through federal grants, but that process will take some time.

The council's discussion about the need for a terminal led to a debate about whether the city should take on the responsibility for building more hangars at the airport.

The city plans to spend about $900,000 for small hangars, and another $1.2 million for hangars for larger planes. The city then would rent the hangars out to airplane owners, which would generate revenue for the city, officials said.

But some members of the council had a problem with the city borrowing money to build the hangars, which they said the private sector could just as easily build.

Steiger, for instance, maintained that by building the hangars and renting them out, the city would be in competition with the private sector. Instead, he said, the city could lease the land to private builders, who could then build their own hangars.

"I feel very strongly that the lessee ought to be able to pick his own builder and build his own building," Steiger said.

But Councilman Dick Cooper said the airport hangars allow the city to generate revenue for the airport, which he said is an important factor in the matter.

"If we do it ourselves, we can generate more revenue," Cooper said. "That ought to be the motivating factor."

Councilman Robert Behnke agreed. "I happen to think the driving force should be maximizing the revenue for the airport," he said. "Airports are in the business of supplying services. They do that by renting T-hangars," which are buildings that airport customers use for storage of smaller planes.

Reilly questioned, however, whether the construction of hangars would follow the city's long-time priorities. "My understanding is that in all of the planning and visioning sessions we've had, one of the priorities that continuously comes out is the terminal," he said. "We have neglected the priorities by not building a terminal."

Severson pointed out that the city currently owns and operates many of the smaller hangars at the airport. "I would like to see us continue to build T-hangars," he said. "It's a control problem if we don't."

Steiger suggested that the council may be able to compromise by allowing the city to continue to build and lease out hangars, but to allow private enterprise to lease land from the city for other business ventures at the airport.

Severson said he would take the council's comments to the airport advisory committee to discuss the matter further.

Contact Cindy Barks at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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