New Russia Township - The Lorain County Regional Airport will break ground today for 48 hangars, a $6 million project that is the first step in a larger expansion expected at the airport.
The first of four buildings holding 12 hangars which will be sold rather than leased should be up by the end of the year, with the three other buildings to follow as the hangars are sold, said Rob Johnston, head of Johnston Aviation Co., which manages the county-owned airport.
The airport is poised to take off in the next five years because one-fourth of its 1,100 acres is vacant land that can be developed into hangars and runways, unlike Burke Lakefront Airport and Cuyahoga County Airport, which are landlocked and mostly built out.
"And they're not building new airports," Johnston said. "We've been turning people away because we have no available hangar space."
Lorain County's niche is servicing companies in Westlake, Avon Lake and other western communities, Johnston said.
"We're not trying to compete with Burke," he said.
An announcement about Burke's future is coming next week. Mayor Frank Jackson and airport Director Ricky Smith will unveil at least part of their master plan for Burke. A consultant hired by the city has been studying whether to close the airport that sits on 450 lakefront acres or keep it open and undertake major improvements.
At Lorain County, six hangars are already sold. The hangars, priced at $108,000 apiece, are heated and have restrooms.
"I don't think it will be a problem selling these," said Skip Skolnik, head of sales and marketing for Storage Condominiums Inc. in Port Clinton.
Storage Condominiums, headed by pilot Dave Winters, has built similar hangars at the Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport, Skolnik said.
The Lorain County airport is home to an executive charter service and several private and corporate planes. But Johnston said that as Hopkins grows busier, smaller operations will look for conveniently located airports like Lorain County.
He predicts that within five years, the airport runway will have to be expanded to accommodate the increased traffic.
The airportproperty also includes a vacant industrial park.
Ron Twining, assistant county administrator, said that Federal Aviation Administration money was used to buy the land and any tenant must have an aviation-related business.
The county is in talks with a company that sells light sport airplanes geared toward recreational pilots.
Twining expects more inquiries as the condominium project takes hold.
Plain Dealer reporter Susan Vinella contributed to this story.