Developer Hopes Plan for Condo-Hangar Combo Works in Santa Paula

Floodwaters washed away some of the land he wanted to build on, but they didn't dampen Bob Banman's dreams of turning an empty Santa Paula Airport field into a complex of airplane hangers and residential condominiums.

Banman and fellow developer Bill Linsday have returned to Santa Paula City Hall with the proposal after the floods of 2005 forced them to withdraw it. The new version has 37 units, rather than the 45 previously proposed, and the condo/hangar site has been moved back from the banks of the Santa Clara River.

There was never any thought of giving up after the floods, Banman said.

"It gave us an opportunity to re-evaluate the project," he said. "We think it's a better project for it. It was a blessing in disguise for us."

Each hangar would have a condo above it, and most of the homes would have full-time owner-occupants, Banman said.

That arrangement exists at only a few airports in North America, and Banman built the condo/hangars at one of them: Steinbach Airport in Canada's Manitoba province, where Banman was born and raised.

"There are air parks in Florida where a rich guy can park his private jet, and they might have living quarters, but this is unique in that it's being developed for owner-occupant pilots," Banman said. There's also an air park in San Diego with condos, but they're not occupied full time.

The project would also provide a home, albeit indirectly, for the Aviation Museum of Santa Paula, which now owns the land. Banman and Linsday's firm, Prairie Pacific Homes, plans to buy the land from the museum, which could then use the money to buy a site for a new museum elsewhere.

The museum doesn't have a permanent home. For now, it operates out of a chain of private hangars open to the public on the first Sunday of every month.

"We were going to put the museum headquarters on a corner of the piece of that property, and then the floods came along, and in effect that eliminated the museum," said Mike Dewey, a member of the museum's board of directors.

The museum would get a share of the revenue from each Prairie Pacific condo, Dewey said. If all of the units were sold, the nonprofit would have $1 million to $1.5 million.

"Once that project is completed, it will give us potentially enough money to build our main museum," he said.

For years, the museum has been losing out on vintage planes because it doesn't have the space to store them.

Even a plane owned by the Santa Paula Airport's founder, Ralph Dickinson, had to be shipped to a museum in Germany, Dewey said.

"When an airplane owner wants to donate, they want that airplane put in a facility that can accommodate it and display it attractively," he said.

Banman and Linsday, both pilots themselves, are counting on Santa Paula Airport's reputation as a hotbed of aviation culture to fuel demand for their proposed condos.

There are already 60 people on a waiting list for the 37 condo/hangars, Linsday said.

"The pilots we talk to are really excited about it," he said.

The typical customer would probably be an empty-nest couple with a small plane. The condos would have two bedrooms and about 1,600 square feet of living space and sell in the $600,000 to $800,000 range, including a hangar, Banman said.

If the project wins city approval later this year, the units would go on sale in 2009.

The Planning Commission should hear the matter in April or May, and it would go to the City Council after that.

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