Monroe Will Ask N.C. for Millions to Improve Airport

Feb. 22--MONROE -- The city will ask the state to share the cost of the newest round of improvements to the Monroe Regional Airport.

The airport serves corporate and private aircraft from small planes to large turboprop and jet aircraft. The improvements are intended to make Monroe more appealing as a business center and bring new revenue to the city.

Since 1996, the city has spent over $1 million improving the airport, building a state-of-the-art terminal and upgrading the runway's approach lighting system.

Last week, the City Council approved a plan that would enable the city to tap a federal block grant given to the state.

Under the plan, the state would reimburse the city for most of the $24 million project over three to six years, said Assistant City Manager Mark Donham. He said state transportation officials have agreed in principle to the arrangement, but details are being worked out.

The state would reimburse the city for 90 percent of the $12.8 million cost of lengthening and reinforcing the runway, the most expensive of the improvement projects, said Donham, who also serves as the airport's director. The 5,500-foot runway would be expanded to as much as 7,500 feet and would be strengthened to accommodate heavier aircraft.

The state also would reimburse the city for about half the $900,000 cost of a 5,000-square-foot terminal expansion.

The state would not reimburse the second-largest expense, $5.3 million in improvements and additions to the airport's hangars. But Donham said those would be self-financing through fees charged to aircraft owners who use the facilities.

The expansion includes 10 new, interconnected "T hangars," which shelter individual planes, and two 15,000-square-foot box hangars, which can hold multiple aircraft. An old maintenance hangar will be demolished, and a new structure will be built in its place.

Donham said the city hopes to have the improvements ready by 2010. The N.C. Department of Transportation's Aviation Division will study the improvement plans.

Union County Chamber of Commerce president Jim Carpenter said the improvements will make Monroe more attractive for business owners. He said the adjacent Monroe Corporate Center, a 500-acre complex that houses several industries and employs about 1,000 people, would most immediately benefit from the improvements.

"For private planes, landing at (Charlotte/Douglas International Airport) is a hassle because of the priority for commercial jets," he said.

Chris Plate, the city's economic development director, said the improvements will allow more businesses to use the regional airport to bring in clients and ship some products.

"It'll just be a greater magnet to attracting industry," he said.