“We were awarded it twice; I had a partner both times. The first time, they kept changing a requirement on the height of a building you could build. After spending a million dollars on architecture, they tell us we have to knock a story off.
“Then more recently in 2001, we were awarded this land and somebody complained that the bid wasn’t out long enough and they extended it three months. It closed on the 6th of September; then September 11th came along and they never did anything. It’s still sitting there empty; that land has been vacant since 1957.
“But that’s not uncommon. There’s a facility to the north that sat empty for over five years. They finally put it out to bid. Somebody complained and they rebid it, and gave it to a guy who had an outrageous amount of money he was going to spend — on seven acres, $43 million. Since then he’s gone bankrupt.
“In the first bid, we bid rent for $77,000 a month; the second bidder was $15,000 a month, the one they gave it to. The difference was he was going to build new buildings on it; we were going to renovate the existing buildings.
“The theory with these leases is that at the end of the 30 years they own the building and can rent it out and get some rent from them. Instead they want to tear them down. When you tear them down, all you get is the rent of the land.
“My bid was to renovate the buildings, which were not that old — some were under 20 years — and pay them $77,000 a month. The second bidder was going to pay them $1 million for the buildings; tear them down; put up new buildings; and pay them $15,000 a month rent for the land.”
Still a future
Lacy is also skeptical about the impact of very light jets, though he too gets caught up in the prospects and the new technology. He sees Cessna’s approach of producing some 100 Mustangs a year as realistic, and Eclipse’s predictions of hundreds of units as a “forget it” proposition.
Looking to the future of aviation, Lacy says there’s still an opportunity for young people, albeit not the same one he experienced from the time he was a kid growing up in Withita.
Comments Lacy, “I would still encourage people to get into aviation. It’s a helluva lot more interesting than being a lawyer.
“It’s an industry in which you need to be honest — honest with yourself. A lot of airplane accidents happen because the pilots are not honest with themselves – their own capabilities; the capability of the airplane.
“I like the idea of getting young kids involved because I think it’s an industry that teaches them that they have to face facts; it teaches them responsibility. The other thing is that somebody who is really interested in aviation is not going to get in trouble with drugs. Aviation becomes bigger than all of that; they know it doesn’t mix.”
As the airport is looking at expansion, the aviation industry is facing contraction, with the number of carriers and the number of flights all trending downward in 2005.
The Houston hay venture typifies a growing trend in airport management: looking beyond traditional aviation-related sources to bolster finances.
Clay Lacy will receive the 2011 NBAA Meritorious Service to Aviation Award, and international business aviation pioneer Don Spruston will receive the 2011 NBAA John P. "Jack" Doswell Award.
Construction on 39-acre site is scheduled for March at Van Nuys