Compromise for Oceanside Airport Site in Calif.?

A preliminary report says Oceanside Municipal Airport, if improved according to a master plan adopted in 1997, could bring in almost $2.7 million in annual revenues in 25 years.

But, the report shows, that's a pittance compared with the $23 million the 50-acre site could be worth if homes were built there.

Some City Council members have floated a compromise: improve the airport a bit and put a big-box commercial development such as a Costco on part of the property in order to reap as much as $1 million a year in taxes.

Costco is interested.

"Sure, we think Oceanside is a great place," Jim Sinegal, president and chief executive officer of the warehouse sales company, said this week.

The Seattle-based company has eyed Oceanside as a site for a store, Sinegal said, but he declined to give details of talks with the city. City officials have said the company has been looking for a site along state Route 76 in Oceanside and at one time considered the old Valley Drive-Ins just east of the airport.

Although Costco has outlets in Vista, San Marcos and Carlsbad, Sinegal said that wouldn't deter the company from building in Oceanside.

But, Sinegal warned, Costco is looking at "a couple hundred" locations across the country including Oceanside, and most of the deals won't come to fruition.

Council members long have talked about trying to lure a Costco to the airport site, on state Route 76 about two miles east of Interstate 5.

The council voted last year not to accept any more federal or state grants for airport improvements until it studies alternatives for the land.

That vote was taken by airport supporters as a sign that a council majority wants to close the airport, although the three members constituting that majority -- Mayor Jim Wood and Councilwomen Esther Sanchez and Shari Mackin -- have denied that's their immediate intent.

A preliminary report by the financial consulting firm Keyser Marston Associates Inc. of San Diego, made available to the council last week, was the result of the votes taken a year ago.

The draft report primarily contains charts and a more complete report is expected to reach the council next week, said Gary Gurley, senior property manager for the city.

"There are a lot of little potholes you can step in" in the preliminary report, Gurley said.

The report outlines current conditions at the airport and evaluates the financial consequences of developing the south side of the property or building out the airport according to a master plan adopted by the council nine years ago.

According to the report, if the master plan were followed, the 33 hangars at the airport would be increased to 162 hangars.

The number of aircraft tie-down spaces, 47, would remain the same.

The cost to make improvements to the south side would be $6 million, compared with $12.5 million for the entire master-plan improvement, the report estimates.

Gross income now is $473,000 a year with expenses at $376,000, plus debt service on state construction loans so the airport now has no positive cash flow at year's end.

With development on the south side, the annual revenue in 25 years could be nearly $1.9 million with expenses of less than $1 million, leaving a net income of about $1 million. With build-out to the master plan in 25 years, the report says, revenue would near $4.4 million and, minus operating expenses, net almost $2.7 million annually.

Closing the airport, the report says, would cost about $6.3 million, including repayment of federal and state loans and demolition.

Included in the report are lists of recent city and countywide sales of residential, commercial office and industrial land and median prices for those types of property. Based on those figures, the airport land could have a value of $23 million to $28 million in 2011 if it were developed residentially, according to the report.

Other potential uses are not spelled out in exact money figures.

Reaction to the preliminary study was perhaps predictable.

Longtime airport opponent Rayford Scott said a Costco would be nice but he wants the entire airport turned into commercial use.

Ben Meyers, president of the Oceanside Airport Association, said his group would not oppose a Costco if the airport were developed according to the master plan.

The mayor said he would consider a compromise development of the airport allowing for more hangars if a Costco were located at the east side of the property on Foussat Road.

But, Wood noted, any changes to 15 acres on the north side of the airport would require the city to consult with a group called Citizens for a Better Oceanside.

That requirement is part of a 1993 settlement the city agreed to in a lawsuit filed by a group called Citizens Against the Airport. The settlement also mandates that an environmental-impact report be completed before any construction could take place on the 15 acres.

Councilman Jack Feller said, "We all knew that it (the airport) could make money if were improved and (the master plan) implemented.

"We can make money without Costco."

But, he said, he's just as happy to have the money from Costco, if a deal could be worked out. "That's the best scenario," he said.

Mackin and Sanchez could not be reached for comment.

Councilman Rocky Chavez said the report consists primarily of pages of data that need more analysis before he will comment.

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