By Sandy Mazza
Hawthorne Municipal Airport shut down Wednesday for a 28-day runway makeover, including new asphalt, lighted signs and markings.
No aircraft can land at the airstrip while the runway and taxiways are stripped and then repaved.
The Federal Aviation Administration awarded a nearly $5 million grant to the city to fund the airport face-lift.
It's one of several renovation projects planned for the 59-year- old facility, which will reopen Nov. 19.
Public Works Director Arnie Shadbehr said a total overhaul of the airport's aging structures began last year.
"We were able to accomplish a brand-new FAA Airport Master Plan - something we weren't able to do for 14years before that," Shadbehr said.
Eleven taxiway ramps will be reconstructed during the runway renovation. And construction on seven new hangars will also begin in the next month, he said.
In December 2006, the city worked out a public-private deal with real estate investors Wedgewood Properties, Kearny Real Estate Co. and Howard CDM to improve the property.
The companies are paying for new hangars and facility improvements, and will share profits from hangar rentals and other fees with the city.
The investment group funded a $1.2million refurbishment of the airport lobby and offices last year. They also brought in Million Air, a national company that provides airport and pilot services, to operate the airport's restaurant, lobby, shuttle service to Los Angeles International Airport, airplane parking and fueling, and hangar maintenance, among other things.
They are also paying for dozens of new hangars in the next few years, said David Wehrly, vice president of Wedgewood Properties. He said that there's currently a seven-year waiting list to rent a hangar. Many of the existing hangars are also in poor condition.
Wehrly, who's also a pilot who uses the airport, complained about the airport's poor service a few years ago and ended up joining the investment group to help improve it. At the time, he said, the city said it couldn't afford to pay for improvements at an airport that few Hawthorne residents use.
"As a pilot, this is my home airport. I like to fly out of a place I'm proud of," Wehrly said. "We're going to put $10 million to $12 million into the airport that the city shouldn't - or wouldn't - have done."
Pat Carey, chairman of Hawthorne's Planning Commission, led a community campaign in 2001 to save the airport when developers threatened to replace it with a commercial complex. Voters turned down the proposal in a ballot initiative that year.
Carey said he is ecstatic about the airport's recent progress.
"The community saved its own airport," said Carey, who also is a pilot who worked at the airport for decades. "That's a rare thing in the state now. It's a bitter fight everywhere to keep an airport open, and there aren't any airports being built. Thank God that happened in Hawthorne.
"This is a really dynamic remodeling of the airport."
Johnny Mazza was a happy pilot, making one of those good-deal flights that sometime come the way of aviators.
The facility, which opened in its new terminal earlier this year, has more than 50,000 sq. ft. of hangar space and can accommodate aircraft up to the size of a Global Express
The authority has asked both Perry and Houston County to help it pay off loans needed for hangar construction by increasing the airport's operating budget from $49,000 to $68,000.