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Leaders cite growth at Toledo Executive Airport, shun idea to shutter it

Posted By: The Toledo Blade on April 2, 2023.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.


Toledo Mayor​ ​Wade ​​Kapszukiewicz’s idea to close the Toledo Executive Airport in hopes of attracting a manufacturing facility has surprised users of the facility that’s home to businesses, aviation clubs, corporate jets, and private airplane owners.

“It makes no sense to change that airport to some industrial thing based on a whim,” said Jim Miller, CEO of Air America Aviation Services, the fixed-base operator at the airport, which employs 19 to provide aviation-related services to aircraft owners and operators. He also owns Air America Aerial Ads, which is based there.

Any movement to repurpose the airport could come with a hefty price tag. The Federal Aviation Administration could require the city to pay back federal grants the airport has received over the years for facilities improvements, which would go back decades and decades.

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which manages the airport for the city, said the FAA has provided 29 grants since 1988 totaling nearly $12.6 million. However, it would be up to the FAA to decide if or how those federal funds might be reclaimed. That sum doesn’t include funds issued in other previous decades for airport operations.

Mr. Miller said he had not heard of the mayor’s proposal and that airport has grown recently, attracting hobbyist pilots and corporate jets alike — including First Solar, Walgreens, and several other companies.

Those all involve “transient” flights originating at other airports, but Air America Aviation is “working hard” to get corporate aircraft based at Toledo Executive, and a corporate charter company, Crow Executive Air, bases aircraft there, Mr. Miller said.

Toledo Executive is “extremely convenient” to Toledo and major suburbs like Oregon, Rossford, Perrysburg, and Maumee and is “a huge asset” for the entire area, he said.

Air America Aerial Ads flies all over the Midwest and beyond, and on Friday, it towed advertisements over the crowds at the Toledo Mud Hens’ Opening Day.

“Where would we move my operation?” Mr. Miller asked, noting the ad company has been based at the airport since 1987.

Mayor​ ​​​Kapszukiewicz said during his State of the City address​ Wednesday that the 500-acre Lake Township airport property could be an ideal location for a major factory — possibly related to electric vehicles and batteries. He said it’s especially ideal since it’s much larger than any other property close to the city.

Officials say the idea is to have a site ready for when state economic developers send prospective companies their way.

“​The fact that we own it saves $14​ million​ at current rates, in terms of land acquisition,” the mayor said in the speech.​ ​”There are acres around it that can be built into the site that​ would truly win us what is truly the holy grail of economic development right now.”

Any decision to shutter the airport would be made by the city of Toledo as directed by FAA regulations, the port authority said.

To decommission an airport, the airport owner would submit a request to the FAA, and the agency would study how the airport serves the national and regional airspace, said Eva Lee Ngai, an FAA spokesman.

“The FAA would review factors including grant history and airport use,” she said in an email, then approve or deny the request.

Many others are not so enthusiastic about the idea of losing the Lake Township airport, which serves a range of aircraft, from corporate jets to small privately owned planes, law enforcement, and premium air freight. The airport supports 23 jobs totaling $2 million in payroll, generating $4 million in direct economic output each year, according to a recent report by Bowling Green State University’s Center for Regional Development.

“Oh my goodness! I’m flabbergasted,” Dave Holz, general manager of Blue Horizons Flying Club, said when asked about the proposal Friday. The club has about 50 members and offers access to several planes based at the airport as well as flight instruction.

He said he was not sure where his club would go. Bowling Green’s airport doesn’t have enough hangars, and Eugene F. Kranz Toledo Express Airport would be a longer drive for many members and lacks the same level of support for airplane maintenance, he said.

Mark Hummer, the township’s administrator and police chief, also was surprised Thursday to learn of the proposal mentioned in the mayor’s speech. He said he had heard of the idea in the past “but never very concretely.”

“We’ve had conversations a couple, three years ago,” Mr. Hummer said. “I hadn’t heard about it for a while, and I kind of thought it was off the table. So we haven’t heard recently from the mayor. I was told that we’ll get a chance to talk next week, hopefully.”

He noted the airport was the first to serve Toledo. It opened in 1928 and was called Transcontinental Airport of Toledo. It later became known as Metcalf Field.

“Toledo does own the property, we recognize that,” Mr. Hummer said. “But there’s a lot of logistical things that would need to be worked out between now and the day that this would ever become a major business center or business park. We’ve got the [Lake] school complex right there. We have to be conscious of our neighbors to the north, the village of Walbridge. And then, of course, to our taxpayers.”

Mike Beazley, an adviser with ConnecToledo who has been part of discussions around the site, said there’s no doubt that the airport is “an important regional asset.”

But he said officials are exploring whether or not an airfield is ultimately the best use for the land, given both its large size and proximity to Toledo — especially if a manufacturer located there potentially employed thousands of people.

“It’s much easier to assemble very large industrial sites in much more rural areas, and unpopulated areas,” Mr. Beazley said. “But the employers frequently want to be in places where there is work force.”

Mayor Neil MacKinnon of neighboring Rossford said he was unfamiliar with Toledo Executive’s aviation importance, but remarked that if it were an ordinary piece of land, “it could be a supersite” for business development because of its size, topography, rail access, industrial-grade utilities, and distance from residential neighborhoods.

“If I was a site selection guy, and that site were shown to me, I would show that site to every Fortune 500 company in the country,” Mayor MacKinnon said, describing the location as being “as good or better” than a development site to the south being promoted by nearby Troy Township.

Gary Thompson, executive vice president of the Toledo-based Regional Growth Partnership, said there are both pros and cons of converting the airport.

Pros include the size of around 500 acres, industrial utility infrastructure that is already close to the property, and the property’s proximity to Toledo, where any manufacturer could attract good job candidates.

On the downside, he said, there are access issues for trucks that would need to be resolved. In addition, the Lake schools are directly adjacent to the property. And there’s the operational airport that’s on the site now.

He said the Regional Growth Partnership has offered an analysis of the proposal, which he described as “absolutely preliminary.”

“A lot of it is on them,” Wade Gottschalk, executive director of Wood County economic development, said of the city of Toledo. “They own it. It is their property to develop. Obviously, we would be more than supportive of working with them on any development goals that they have, just like we would with anyone else in Wood County developing land.”

Nearby Perrysburg Mayor Tom Mackin said he attended Mayor Kapszukiewicz’s speech, but had no comment about the airport redevelopment idea because he didn’t “know the pros and cons of it.” Mayor Mackin said he was not aware of any Perrysburg businesspeople who use Toledo Executive, but that was something he would look into before formulating an opinion.

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