Southern Minnesota airport has a new airfield, FBO, and focus
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
OWATONNA, MN — In 1999, the Owatonna Glenn J. Degner Regional Airport completed its new general aviation terminal, capping six years of reconstruction that included a 5,500- x 50-ft. concrete runway and a new T-hangar site, at a total cost of some $14 million. It is, in essence, a totally new corporate facility, one now being positioned as a vital economic development tool for the region 45 minutes south of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metroplex.
According to manager David Beaver, 32, the rebuilding of the airport came about because of the support of the Federal
Aviation Administration, the state, and the community, at a time when
funding was much more difficult to obtain than it has been since the passage
• Best general aviation concrete paving project,
American Concrete Pavement Association
• Airport Lighting Award of Excellence
• FAA Governors Award
• Project of the Year, MN Council of Airports
"It’s rare when a municipality
of only 22,000 people realizes the economic asset they have in an airport,"
comments Beaver. "Eleven corporations in town utilize corporate aviation
here and have their own flight departments; not all of them are based
here, but they fly in and out of here frequently.
"The convenience of business aviation helped to justify the project, along with the attitude that the community has toward the airport."
The Heritage Halls museum along I-35 north of Owatonna Regional has become a Southern Minnesota landmark. The addition of outfitter Cabela’s just north of the airfield has brought with it 30-50 transients each week.
The City of Owatonna, named for an Indian
princess, acquired the airport in the mid-1950s from Glenn J. Degner,
who built the airfield in 1946. Like many general aviation airports, it
was managed by the fixed base operator while falling under the purview
of the public works department. In the late 1980s, a group of local airport
supporters, including local famed aviator R.W. "Buzz" Kaplan,
began coordinating a serious effort to consider the long-term future of
the facility, according to Beaver. That led to a series of public meetings
which resulted in the hiring of a consulting firm to begin the necessary
"The community wanted us to build something that would last," says Beaver of the concrete pavement construction, which he surmises was also part of a state experiment. In 1996, recognizing the need for a full-time airport manager to oversee the project as well as related grant processes, the city hired Beaver, a 1992 graduate of the University of North Dakota and an interim airport manager at LaCrosse, WI.
During the next six years, it would totally rebuild its airport, including land acquisition, sewer and water, fuel farm, parking lot, runway, and terminal. Plans call for a crosswind runway, already approved by the local government, and for which the engineering design phase and land acquisition have been completed, says Beaver.
"We’ve just completed the major development," he explains, "now we’re in a slowdown phase and I want to keep the momentum up while not eating up a lot of local dollars. We’re trying to keep our focus on the goal of the crosswind and commercial development to the west."
Commercial development is already on its way toward the airport north of the city. The Mayo Clinic, which is located in nearby Rochester, is constructing a satellite facility just south of the airfield, and the outfitter Cabela’s opened a major sales outlet within a mile to the north, operating a shuttle service to the airport. In fact, says Beaver, Cabela’s attracts some 30-50 general aviation aircraft each week and is touted as the second largest tourist attraction in the state, after the Mall of America in Minneapolis.
Beaver relates that while corporates are a major focus, light aircraft and other general aviation is welcome, as evidenced by tenant Minnesota Skydivers Club, Inc. The other longtime tenant is Born Again Restorations, owned by Kaplan, who is on the board of the Experimental Aircraft Association and is well-known for expeditions such as the Minnesota-to-Antarctica Friendship Flight ’99. Kaplan’s firm also reconstructed in 1998 a Sikorski S-38 amphibian aircraft for Sam Johnson, chairman of S.C. Johnson, who recreated his father’s 1935 flight to Brazil.
The newest tenant is the FBO, Rare Aircraft, Ltd., which has signed on as the service provider to replace the city, which had terminated its leasehold with the previous operator in June. According to Beaver, the city is looking to the new FBO to be a key in attracting more transients and base tenants. Roy Redman, president, Rare Aircraft, Ltd. A Concern for Freedom
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