CONROE, TX — Driving north on Interstate I-45 out of downtown Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, one passes exits for George Bush Intercontinental Airport before reaching The Woodlands, a renowned master-planned community consisting of golf courses, residential neighborhoods, commercial offices, and plenty of retail outlets. Just past The Woodlands, some 40 miles north of Houston, is Conroe, home of the Lone Star Executive Airport, formerly Montgomery County Airport.
A decade ago Montgomery County, the airport sponsor, renamed the facility while also divesting itself of the operation and ownership of various hangars on the airfield. The intent, explains airport director Scott Smith, A.A.E., was to let the private sector make the investments at Lone Star Executive. He reports that the array of privately owned hangars that populate the airport today are the result.
Explains Smith, “The county decided to sell off all of their rows of T-hangars that they owned to spur private development. And it did. They put it out for bid and offered long-term [40 years] land leases. So, we don’t own anything on the airport except the control tower, the airport administration building, and a maintenance shop.
“What that did is bring in private development. The first thing that happened is there are five hangar complexes that were privately built and opened. And that move really spurred private development.
“What happened is, when they got rid of the county’s $90/month T-hangar spaces and turned it over to private enterprise, the market rates adjusted naturally. And that allowed people to come in and build and compete. So, it was a good thing.
“Now we’ve got five of these 60x60s here; and another six just starting construction. So, we’ve got a lot of construction going on for hangar space. We have a total of 60 leases on the airport.”
Smith attributes much of the growth at Lone Star to economic expansion around The Woodlands. “In fact, what’s happened is there’s pressure on the airport coming from development from north Houston and the Woodlands. It’s pushing north.
“Our competitor for space in meeting the demand is David Wayne Hooks Airport, which has a good reputation because of its longevity in location.”
Despite all the hangar development, Smith reports that there is no available space currently, thus new hangar construction is underway.
“I think we’re really poised to accept the demand that is here and the demand that is coming as things move north out of Houston.”
Three FBOs ... and counting
According to Smith, three fixed base operators on the airfield compete for one million gallons of fuel sales annually — Galaxy Air Services; Wing Aviation; and, General Aviation Services. Each has its own special niche businesses that help offset the low retail fuel volumes.
Enter Black Forest Ventures, a Woodlands-based operator of restaurants and other businesses and which plans to construct a new FBO, which will include an airport restaurant.
Explains Smith, “The new FBO will come in here with a 40,000-square foot hangar and 20,000 square feet of office space. They’re anxious to get going; their timetable is to open the facility the third quarter of 2012, which will give them about three months of operation before a runway extension is complete and open. I think the key there is going to be the restaurant.”
In recent years Lone Star Executive has undergone some $20 million in airfield infrastructure, including rehabilitation of its two runways and construction of a $3 million contract tower. Says Smith, “We’ve got $13 million more in 2012 with a runway extension and a taxiway reconstruction. Out of that package there is a significant amount of money that the county has paid over and above its grant matches to get things done.
“For example, the runway reconstruction. The county paid additional money to keep that secondary runway at 100 feet [wide], because TxDOT wanted to reduce it to 75. The county also paid additional funding to keep the primary runway in concrete instead of asphalt. And the county went out and found additional funds for the tower.
“It’s pumping in additional capital, because it recognizes that the future of the airport needs to be able to meet demand.”
Also part of the growth plans is a business and technology park being developed adjacent to the airport, which the City of Conroe is heading up.
“Over the next ten to 15 years their plan is to attract corporate entities, and some of those will have corporate flight departments. And they’ll have a direct shot to the Interstate – no turns; I like that.”
The industrial park sits on some 270 acres, while there are some 240 acres available for development at the airfield, according to Smith.