GRAND HAVEN — Citing a need to look at options for future economic development and growing manufacturers, a local chamber of commerce is questioning whether its city’s municipal airport offers the best use of the land.
Joy Gaasch, president of The Chamber of Commerce of Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg, recently raised the issue with city leaders in Grand Haven. She urged them to study the local impact of Grand Haven Memorial Airpark and potential options for the more than 150-acre parcel of land, which is adjacent to an industrial park with several manufacturers on the south end of town.
Some local manufacturers near the airport have had trouble finding land suitable for expansion, Gaasch said. A number of others are weighing future expansions and need a solution within the next three to five years, she added.
If they cannot expand their production facilities locally, they could end up moving out of the area, according to Gaasch.
“We are all out of land for industrial expansion in our community. We need to at least look at what the impact is of not having that airport there or how the land can be used for a different purpose,” Gaasch said. “Where are we going to put industry in the future?”
The Grand Haven City Council, which for two years has included looking at the future of Grand Haven Memorial Airpark on its list of priorities, opted to examine the question. The City Council voted 3-2 last month to pursue a study of the municipal airport, which is licensed as a general aviation facility.
The airport, with its iconic F-100 “Super Sabre” U.S. Air Force fighter jet displayed at the entrance, sports a main runway of 3,750 feet and a cross-wind runway of 2,100 feet, plus a 1,360-square-foot administration building and 68 rental hangars.
Having an outside third-party study conducted could answer lingering questions about the airport’s future, especially at a time when capital investments are needed to upgrade airplane hangars.
“We would like to put this to bed one way or another,” said Gaasch, noting the city looked at the issue back in 1992 and the Chamber’s new request for a study “isn’t about the closure of the airport.”
“We have folks in that industrial park today who are thinking about what the future is there,” Gaasch said. “At least to gather the data, you’re sending a message to them as well that you’re doing your due diligence.”
Closing the airport could actually prove economically unfeasible if the city has to repay public grants obtained over the years for maintenance and operations, she said.
Time of discussion
Questions about the future of Grand Haven Memorial Airpark and use of the land are similar to discussions that have come up over the years in other communities, such as Park Township in southern Ottawa County.
Park Township for decades has debated what should happen with its historic airport at 152nd Avenue and Ottawa Beach Road as it seeks to maintain operations but increase revenue-generating opportunities and overall public interest in the site.
Back in the 1990s, township residents narrowly voted against a proposal to close the airport, a move some locals had advocated to open the land for recreation. A survey of residents in 2006 by Hope College’s Frost Research Center found 61 percent supported the airport, but 39 percent did not want taxpayer resources spent on it.
In November, the township’s board of trustees reviewed a proposed plan for developing some of the 80-acre Park Township Airport property into an “airpark,” complete with an aeronautical-themed playground, restoration of a museum in a historic airport hangar, an observation tower, a community building and more.
What’s proposed is a multi-phase plan that would be implemented over 10 years and could cost Park Township millions.
‘Good business sense’
In Grand Haven, the issue isn’t about recreation, but rather land use for economic development.
City Council members who backed conducting a study on the airport say that does not mean they’re advocating for its closure, only that they want to gather information.
“It’s smart for the city to look into it and see what options are out there,” City Councilman Josh Brugger said during a recent council meeting. “It makes good business sense to look at all the options that are available to us. Right now, the airport is doing really well and made a great case for continuing the airport. I love the idea of looking a decade, two decades, three decades down the road and seeing what the future holds or what planning the highest and best use of the property may be.”
Council members who objected noted that the airport’s operations are on the upswing and that doing a study now would send the wrong message to operators.
“To me, this is not the time to be doing this,” said Councilman Dennis Scott. “It’s time to slow down a little bit.”
The city will look to have an outside firm conduct the study during 2019 and intends to work with the Chamber of Commerce on how to pay for it, City Manager Pat McGinnis said.
Gaasch believes the city can secure a state grant to cover the cost, which could exceed $25,000.
Among the issues that McGinnis said the study will examine are:
- payback provisions from grants the city accepted over 20 years for operations and maintenance
- the cost of removing infrastructure currently in place and to repurpose existing buildings
- the potential to divide the land and the value of resulting lots
- the cost to extend water, sewer, electric, gas and technical infrastructure, and the cost of a street network to serve future development
- various redevelopment scenarios and resulting taxable value
- future property tax revenues over a specified period compared with the impact of airport operations
- the value of future employment
- future revenue from water, sewer and electricity sales
MiBiz Staff Writer Sydney Smith contributed to this report.