Plattsburgh’s Initiative

Former Air Force Base targets regional air service, economic development

PLATTSBURGH, NY—In April 2007, Plattsburgh International Airport (PBG) dedicated a brand-new, $10 million 35,300-square-foot terminal building. On June 18, it opened its doors to commercial passenger service in and out of this former Air Force Base located just one hour south of Montreal (see story). Owned and operated by Clinton County, airport manager Roger B. Sorrell, C.M. and other supporters see a bright future for this facility, which is already operating in the black, thanks in large part to the non-passenger activity here.

The 1,699-acre Plattsburgh Air Force Base was the longest active military installation in the United States, and had been connected with the military in one way or another for more than 40 years.

According to airport officials, Plattsburgh AFB was created in the 1950s as a base for the Strategic Air Command and was continually modernized by the U.S. government until its unexpected closure in 1995.

The Clinton County government took over operation of the facility, and the footprint at PBG was increased to 5,000 acres, making it a “regional, multi-purpose aviation and aerospace complex,” according to officials. The Clinton County Airport, some three miles northwest of PBG, was also operated by Clinton County, but was closed to focus development on Plattsburgh.

According to airport manager Sorrell, the capital for the investment to transform the airport for civilian use came from three sources: FAA paid for 95 percent; 2.5 percent came from New York State; and another 2.5 percent contributed by Clinton County.

Sorrell’s predecessor, former airport manager Ralph Hensel, along with the county legislature worked on funding for the new terminal, according to Adore Kurtz, president of The Development Corporation, a locally based company hired by Clinton County to assist with the transition.

“Getting the facility ready to be an airport cost about $20 million, the bulk of which came from FAA,” she says. “Thirteen million dollars of that supported the terminal, the jetway, and other things.”

Sorrell says the terminal is designed and located to allow plenty of capability for natural expansion.

[As we go to press, changes were announced at Plattsburgh International, with manager Sorrell resigning after some nine months on the job, citing personal reasons. Rodney Brown, Clinton County planner and deputy administrator, has been named the interim director.

Thinking through the terminal
Hensel and the legislature put a committee together to look at how to make a terminal that was appropriate for current operations, but expandable.
“We didn’t want to build JFK; on the other hand, we really knew there was potential for growth in passenger service,” explains Kurtz at The Development Corporation.

“All of us have been to the airports where you have to take a shuttle bus to some other terminal. Well, they tried to circumvent that and also wanted to work on the legacy of the architecture that the Air Force, Army, and Navy left for us. The design looks more like a military base.”

Sorrell says that they are working on a number of other renovations around the airfield. He is currently improving nose docks, which were initially designed for military planes, and will be looking to lease out the space once they’re completed.

“A lot of these buildings need to be renovated or demolished,” he says. “They’re 40 years old, and if you don’t use a lot of these buildings, they’ll just deteriorate before your eyes.”

The airport has had to deal with some pollution on the site, but Kurtz says that at the time that the Air Force base was closed in 1995, it was considered one of the cleanest facilities. “That’s not to say that there haven’t been millions of dollars spent on the airport facility and the rest of the base,” she says. “We feel that we know where the problems are.”

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