LEASE RATES CAUSE GROUPS TO COLLIDE AT WITHAM FIELD

Stuart, FL airport remains embattled


Commission Chairman Michael DiTerlizzi said the fact that the county will get the buildings provided by the businesses makes the leases fairer than they may appear.

"When those leases were entered into in the 1990s nobody wanted the land," DiTerlizzi said.

Shore said Capen's argument was not valid because the leases for Stuart Jet Center and Galaxy Aviation do not expire until 2032. By then the buildings will have depreciated so much that they will be useless to the county, Shore said.

Companies won't renegotiate

The Witham Aero Club pays about 15 cents per square foot for land where it built hangars. Bob Blackford, the former president of the group, said that when he signed the lease in 1999 the rent was higher than what the club would have paid at St. Lucie County International Airport.

St. Lucie County charges about 5 cents per square foot for unimproved land at its airport and Indian River County charges 5 cents per square foot for unimproved airport land in Sebastian.

Blackford said Shore was just trying to find excuses to close Witham Field and was "scraping at the bottom of the barrel."

Weberman was critical of amendments that have been made to the leases. The original leases required Stuart Jet Center and Galaxy Aviation to pay the county 2 percent of the revenue the businesses got for subleasing the property. Commissioners dropped that requirement in 1999.

"It seems like every time we negotiate these leases they get more one sided,' said Weberman.

DiTerlizzi, who was elected in 2000, said he would not have voted to drop that requirement but he doesn't see how the county could get the businesses to agree to pay it again or renegotiate rents in the middle of the lease.

"This stinks of taking away property rights," DiTerlizzi said.

Capen said he "absolutely" will not renegotiate his lease with the county. Blackford said he didn't think any of the businesses would reopen their leases.

"It's like if you are renting a car for $500 and in the middle of the lease the car agency comes to you and says 'I need more money, my wife needs a new fur coat.' How interested are you going to be in renegotiating?" Blackford said.

Shore said the airport activists want commissioners to use the Stuart Jet Center's request to build more hangars as leverage against the business to force them to renegotiate.

Vought's lease expires in 2009 and the company will start renegotiating next year, said company spokeswoman Lynne Warne.

The Sheriff's Office is leaving its building on the airport by the end of the year. That building will be rented to another business or public agency, according to county officials.

DiTerlizzi said that building and any airport land rented in the future will be rented at fair market rates comparable to other airports and in the rest of the county.

~ jason_schultz@pbpost.com

Witham Field's leases

Leases at county-owned Witham Field are under fire, with opponents noting airport businesses are paying much less per square foot than a nonprofit agency and the sheriff's office. Airport business owners say the leases are not comparable.

Renter$ per s.f.$ totalAdditionalTotal $paymentsto countyCouncil on Aging$9.50$61,000N/A$61,000Sheriff's Office$5$120,000N/A$120,000Vought Aircraft15 cents$385,000*$132,000$517,000Witham Aero Club15 cents$19,000N/A$19,000Stuart Jet Center7 cents$151,000**$154,000$305,000Galaxy Aviation7 cents$57,000**$107,000$164,000$ per s.f.$ totalAdditionalTotal $paymentsto countyCouncil on AgingNonprofit6,400 square feet$9.50$61,000N/A$61,000Sheriff's Office$5$120,000N/A$120,000Vought Aircraft15 cents$385,000*$132,000$517,000Witham Aero Club15 cents$19,000N/A$19,000Stuart Jet Center7 cents$151,000**$154,000$305,000Galaxy Aviation7 cents$57,000**$107,000$164,000

* Vought Aircraft also pays the county 50% of the revenue the manufacturing company gets from subleasing some land to other companies, which is not included in the calculations of its rent.

** Stuart Jet Center and Galaxy Aviation also pay the county 8 cents per gallon of fuel that they sell as part of their leases, but that is not included in the calculations of their rents.

Source: Martin County

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