The Metropolitan Airports Commission appears to be making progress in its effort to persuade some businesses to help pay for a controversial expansion at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie.
The commission is talking to companies that might contribute to a $12 million runway expansion project, according to Gary Schmidt, MAC's director of reliever airports.
Schmidt said he can't name any specific businesses or dollar amounts at this point, but he said there are "a couple of corporations that have approached us and said they might be interested. "
The project, first proposed more than 15 years ago, would extend two runways at the reliever airport to accommodate current and future demand. The 3,500-foot south runway would be extended to 5,000 feet and the 3,600-foot north runway would get an extra 300 feet.
MAC hopes to complete the latter extension in 2008 and the former in 2009.
Federal grants could cover 80 percent of the project. MAC is asking some businesses to cover at least part of the remaining 20 percent.
MAC's reasoning for this is that corporate jets account for much of the 145,000 annual takeoffs and landings at Flying Cloud.
Corporate aviation is the fastest-growing segment of the air travel industry, according to MAC. Schmidt said the runway expansion at Flying Cloud would make air travel more efficient for small corporate jets.
Gary Demee, an Eden Prairie resident and business owner and former member of the Flying Cloud Airport Advisory Commission, opposes the expansion. He doubts if many businesses are going to step forward with cash in hand for the project.
"I don't think it's likely that people are going to cough up money for it," he said. "[MAC] is digging for money, looking for donations, because they are running out of ideas. Why else would they look to be soliciting money from businesses?"
Public-private funding arrangements on airport projects are relatively unusual, although Maplewood-based 3M contributed $1 million to a flood protection project at Holman Field in St. Paul, and a private developer helped pay for hangers at the Anoka County-Blaine airport.
"We are trying to be more creative about how we generate revenue and pay for projects," Schmidt said. "We are trying to operate more like a private business ... so we are seeking every source of revenue and funding we can get. "
City residents who oppose the project say it would increase noise and pollution and reduce property values.
In 2002, the city agreed not to oppose the expansion in exchange for a guarantee against future expansions.
The city council has since taken a neutral position on the expansion.
MAC is ready to proceed with the project, Schmidt said, but Demee isn't so sure.
"They have said that for 20 years," Demee said. "There is a little money to start expanding the north runway, but that has nothing to do with the bulk of the project. They don't have the money for it. "