Committee will examine, retool basic policies at airport

Published 12:05 am Saturday, August 1, 2015

Rowan leaders will examine core operating policies of the county airport as a means of boosting economic development at the facility.

As companies and organizations looked to build hangars and facilities at the airport, an unwritten requirement was that the county would finance future projects and subsequently lease facilities to interested parties. In some cases, such as private airplane charter company Strategic Moves, the facilities were built before leases were signed or even discussed. In others, facilities were built specifically for companies intent on moving to the airport.

In part, the policy was designed to ensure facilities were built to county standards.

Following a lengthy discussion on Friday, the Airport Advisory Board appointed seven people to oversee a process that will involve retooling the financing policy and updating the airport’s master plan to designate specific areas of the airport for different sized buildings.

The county’s ability to take on debt was a point County Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds mentioned in a presentation to the airport board.

“We see that we’re going to have a long laundry list of financial needs across the county,” Edds said. “As this airport begins to explode, then every time a new jet wants to locate here we’re going to have to build a new, $2 million facility. That takes a lot of dollars from the county, it takes up loan capacity and in my mind it slows growth.”

During the meeting, Edds, Commissioner Craig Pierce, attendees and airport board members expressed support for allowing private companies to pay for new construction. Pierce said he’d previously not supported the idea, but would if basic, uniform building standards are met.

“Charlotte hasn’t always been the airport it is today, and Rowan isn’t going to be the airport it is today 25 or 30 years from now,” Pierce said. “What I’m concerned about is that we do the right thing in bringing in financing, and we don’t end up losing control of the airport. I’m open to public financing provided there is some limitations there, such as a minimum square footage and plans be reviewed by a third party.”

Until now, Pierce said financing from interested developers didn’t make sense. In some future cases it also wouldn’t be the best option, he said. For large prospects such as Strategic Moves, which will be the airport’s largest company, it would be the most financially feasible option.

“We’ve got to have a blend of both models to optimize our chances out here,” Pierce said about the airport.

Airport board member Randy Baker described policies at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport as an example of how Rowan’s airport could function. Baker said companies locating at Charlotte’s Airport sign a ground lease and, after a designated number of years, turn ownership of facilities over to the airport.

Pierce described development that’s already planned for the Concord Regional Airport as an example of competition Rowan might face.

To compete and attract prospects, Edds said Rowan County has to rethink its basic principles of economic development across the county and think about ideas it hadn’t in the past.

“A lot of times, it’s the fourth quarter, we’re down by three scores and we need to start throwing the ball,” Edds said.

The committee of people appointed to examine policies at the airport include: Baker; Airport Board Chairman Addison Davis; Edds; Tom Green, who works for Food Lion; Airport Director Thad Howell; Airport Board Member James Safrit; and Rowan Works Economic Development Director Robert Van Geons.

Davis said he’d like to see some results from the committee by the airport board’s next meeting.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.