Reviving Galveston: After 50 years of neglect, Scholes Field gets new life via economic development

COVER Reviving Galveston After 50 years of neglect, Scholes Field gets new life via economic development By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director GALVESTON, TX - An old joke among general aviation airport managers is that one...


COVER

Reviving Galveston

After 50 years of neglect, Scholes Field gets new life via economic development

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

Galveston, TXGALVESTON, TX - An old joke among general aviation airport managers is that one either repaves the pavement or mows it more often. At Scholes International Airport here, lawn mowers have ruled for decades when it came to pavement maintenance. No more. With a new political climate and an emphasis on economic growth across this island city some 50 miles south of Houston, the airport is undergoing a revitalization that will soon kick into high gear, following enactment of a tax increment reinvestment zone that is projected to generate some $12-15 million for the airfield over the next 30 years.

The obstacles facing airport management at Galveston go beyond the stereotypical lack of support from the community. They include being blackballed by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation, which operates under the block grant program, for infrastructure development. The reason: The city failed to live up to a commitment to match Airport Improvement Program funds, losing an FAA grant and essentially leaving the airport in limbo on any initiative to rebuild the airfield. Even worse, it brought on an audit by the U.S. DOT Inspector General's office. In turn, that led to documentation that the city was failing to pay rent on facilities it was utilizing at the airport. In other words, revenue diversion.

All that, as they say, is water under the bridge. Today, Scholes Inter-national is on its way to becoming a first-class business airport, which considering its level of business-related activity is perhaps where it should have been all along.

For despite the lack of infrastructure development and maintenance through the years, Scholes Field has maintained an impressive level of business activity, spurred primarily by oil patch operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

At the same time, the politics of Galveston have changed significantly in recent years, as the local populace has sought to reinvigorate the economy which for a long time had been somewhat stagnant. It is, in retrospect, an extension of the economic growth that has been occurring throughout South Texas over the past two decades.

Hud Hopkins
Hud Hopkins

A History of Activity
Despite the lack of infrastructure development at this airport for some 50 years, its proximity to the oil rigs in the Gulf along with its location on an island that carries with it much history has kept the field somewhat vibrant in spite of political winds that often failed to appreciate the role the airport played in the local economy.

According to airport director Hud Hopkins, who arrived here in 1994 fresh out of Texas A&M University, seven offshore oil companies are based at Scholes Field, with some 50 based helicopters and more than 200 fixed wing aircraft. In all, the airport handles some 104,000 operations annually.

Says Hopkins, "We're turning and burning with helicopters out here. We have everything from a 206 to F91s." He estimates that between 70 and 80 percent of all operations are helicopter related, serving the rigs that drill for oil and gas offshore.

Yet, Hopkins points out that minimal attention was paid to maintaining the airfield since the late 1940s, primarily due to the political climate that saw little need to invest in the airport. However, in the mid-1990s, the political winds began to change for the community as a whole, as new economic development initiatives began to take hold.

The Turnaround
Since becoming director, Hopkins has focused on educating the city, which owns and operates the airport with the assistance of an advisory committee, and community groups about the value of the airport. Along with the matching funds debacle and subsequent DOT Inspector General's audit (see sidebar), the city has come to recognize the role the airport plays in ongoing business activity on the island.

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