Glendale's 2nd Chance
Built in 1987, an airport begins to reach its potential through orchestrated effort
BY John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
GLENDALE, AZ — The Glendale Municipal Airport was named the 1999 Arizona Airport of the Year recently. For James J. McCue, A.A.E., and other officials in this growing suburban community just west of downtown Phoenix, the honor served as somewhat of a stamp of recognition for the ambitious reenergizing effort they have orchestrated during the past five years.
Constructed in 1987, Glendale Municipal suffered through a number of failed tenant businesses, weak activity, and a lack of financial and political support from the city sponsor in its early years. But that began to change in 1993, when a refocused initiative by the city brought in McCue to give the airport direction, in line with the city's economic development push that had as one element an industrial park adjacent to airport property.
It was also during this timeframe that certain dynamics began to take shape as a community on the rise started building on synergies that arise in a vibrant local economy.
Glendale's time had come. And it was up to McCue, the city leaders, and state and federal officials to see to it that this relatively new airport was included as an instrumental player in the overall development game.
"The forces are in place," comments McCue, who points to a soon to be completed divided highway nearby as evidence. "One of the major forces is this freeway. Within a year, the highway will connect with I-10; we're going to be literally minutes away from there at six miles.
"There's been a major push for a major movie studio one mile east of us, with one of the largest sound stages in the country.
"The developer came to me a couple of years ago and said, ’If we get this thing together, you have to guarantee me that we're going to have at least two flights a day from here to Burbank.' I don't mean 737s or DC-9s, but a Citation 135 operator or the like."
Whether or not that comes to pass, the city is positioning Glendale Municipal for growth. It is McCue's job to give the airport ongoing direction and definition. Since arriving here, he has focused on attaining and using government funding, and has overseen capital improvements at the airport totaling over $9 million.
New, but Undefined
Interestingly, Glendale Municipal was built in the mid-1980s, at a time when few new general aviation airports were being built and, in fact, were in decline. It was constructed on land donated by a local developer, John F. Long. In some cities, it may have created a dynamic quickly; here, it waited for the urban reach of Phoenix to head west, which it is doing today.
The airport foundered. FBOs couldn't survive and the airport was drawing a subsidy from downtown of a half million dollars a year and more. In 1994, the city hired McCue, who had experience at Toledo, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. Coincidentally, it was about this time that Jake Starr took over the fixed base operation, Glendale Aviation.
"When I got here, I found a sleepy little airport," explains McCue. "There were so many things that could be done. Admittedly, it took about a year and a half to find out where the support is, where the financing is going to be, where will the feds agree to put money into it.
"You had to look at a vision. One day my boss and I were out looking over the airport and he asked me, ’What do you think about that second (proposed) runway?' I said, ’I'm glad you brought that up because I really don't think it's going to work. I don't think it's going to be a revenue generator. I think we're going to (create) noise problems. I'd sort of like to look at it (the property) as a revenue generator in some way.' He liked the idea."
Since that time, the city and airport have been moving hand in hand, purchasing necessary noise abatement and development acreage, promoting the growing industrial park, and setting aside acreage on the east side for an aviation development park.
The second runway has been abandoned, and Coffman Associates is midway through an update of the master plan. Some of the early projections: based aircraft will increase from 235 in 1998 to 375 by 2020; annual operations will go from 115,056 in 1998 to 215,000 in 2020.
The airport is in the midst of significant hangar development, with as many as 150 new units coming on line. Local interests and national developer Erect-a-Tube are leasing property and financing construction of T-hangars and much needed corporate facilities.
Of the Erect-a-Tube contract, McCue says, "In my mind, this is a deal made in heaven. They're going to come in and build me 59 T-units, without a doubt 100 percent occupancy the day they open the door. We put no payments to be made on those hangars for the first six months. In other words, you've got 100 percent occupancy, you've got your revenue coming in before you make your first payment — for six months."
The "deal" is not unlike one McCue arranged with Glendale Aviation, which was having difficulty when he arrived because of low activity at the airport. Subsequently, the FBO's lease was renegotiated to reduce its rates, and a clause was included that says GA must reach 750,000 gallons in fuel sales before another FBO can open at the airport. "He's paying me a fair return right now," says McCue. "After the end of another four years, we'll renegotiate and maybe notch it up a bit. Here's a guy who has really hung with it. He has the only Hertz rent-a-car franchise in the entire West Valley; I'm not going after a piece of that. I want him to be solid, and maybe we'll talk about it later."
$$$ for development
During McCue's term here, some $9 million in federal, state, and local grants have come to the airport. Developments have included enclosing the terminal's top floor, now rented to a flight academy; increasing airport acreage from 420 to 730; a maintenance building; 155-car parking lot and an FBO parking lot; and an environmental assessment for the runway extension ($3 million, additional 1,800-ft. to 7150-ft.; widening to 100-ft.), slated for groundbreaking in 2000.
All along the way, McCue has gotten his paperwork in order and put his hand out. "We'd finish everything out, and then we went back for more," says McCue. "Both the federal and state agencies kept saying, ’The reason you're getting it is you get it, you spend it, and then you ask for more.'"
McCue was particularly taken with the support he has received from the state. "Having been in Indiana and Ohio, and seeing other states where some airports may get $10,000 a year, the cap for airports this year in Arizona is a $1.6 million (each). And one of the best things is, regardless if you're at the cap, if you get a federal grant the state will automatically kick in the 5 percent."
With much of the infrastructure in place or being developed, McCue is now turning his attention to development of the 80-acre aviation business park and revenue generation. He predicts the airport will break even the first time this year.