SAN DIEGO — Montgomery Field, located just north of this serene city, is owned and operated by the City of San Diego. It sees some 275,000 annual operations and is home to 650 based aircraft as well as, for nearly 70 years, fixed base operator GIBBS Flying Service, Inc. While both the city and owner of GIBBS Flying Service, William “Buzz” Gibbs, agree on the future of the general aviation airport and the market it serves, Gibbs says the city would prefer to take over his business for the revenue, while the city contends it’s doing what is in the best interests of the airport.
The history of the Gibbs family and Montgomery Field are closely tied. Buzz’s father, Bill Gibbs, founded the airport in 1937. The city purchased the airport in 1948 and GIBBS Flying Service has leased land from the city since. The FBO is home to some 1,000 members of six flying clubs.
The long-term lease which GIBBS Flying Service had with the city for some 24 acres expired June 1, 2005, says Gibbs. It was a 35-year lease, “and there had been numerous leases before that,” he points out.
According to Gibbs, he has been trying for several years to renegotiate his lease with the city, but was turned away each time. “We’ve had many meetings over the years,” he says. “I sent them one proposal in January of 2003. I had my facility appraised; I had the airport land values appraised; I had all the drawings and improvements laid out. Three months later I get a letter back that says thank you for your interest, but we’re not interested in talking with you at this time.”
Gibbs says he sent similar letters to the city every six months following the first letter. He says other tenants at Montgomery Field went “down to the wire” with negotiations with the city and “my assumption was that everything is going to stay the same — nobody gets serious until everything gets right to the end and then everybody gets serious. This particular time, they got serious in a different way. Instead of trying to work something out, they just wanted to take it away — which was their right.”
In a meeting with the city, Gibbs says officials “basically said tear everything down and start over again. And I said that makes no sense.”
Gibbs says the city’s argument was that the buildings were 35 years old and needed to be replaced. “I said if I’m going to build them, I’d build the exact same. They haven’t changed the design of single-engine T-hangars.”
According to Tracy Means, A.A.E, airports director for the City of San Diego, the proposals provided by Gibbs were never accepted by the city and moved forward to the city council. “Our real estate asset department negotiates/handles leasing matters. The process is when they receive a proposal that they think is in the best interest of the city, then it moves forward to the mayor and council for adoption approval. My understanding is that none of the proposals that had been received from Mr. Gibbs were acceptable to the real estate department.”
While Means says she was not involved with reviewing Mr. Gibbs’s proposals, “I suspect that a lot of what happened with the Gibbs matter was that the investment didn’t meet the criteria that the real estate department [established]. Because why would you turn down a good plan?”
According to Means, the real estate department frequently receives “unsolicited proposals and they make a determination based on their professional expertise and determine which ones will be accepted and which ones will be rejected.”
According to Gibbs, the city is interested in the rental income he collects from his hangars and tie-downs at Montgomery Field. “I think it was strictly money,” he says. “Nobody’s saying I’m doing a lousy job. It’s strictly dollars and cents.”
Rental income from hangars and tie-downs at Montgomery Field totals some $700,000 annually for Gibbs. “And that’s what they [the city] wanted from me. They didn’t want to share that with me; they wanted it themselves.”