May 24--Imagine subdivisions springing up where Cessnas now climb into the sky.
That was the speculation at City Hall, as aldermen publicly questioned whether Milwaukee County's financial woes would lead it to sell Timmerman Field to developers.
As county supervisors consider a study of selling or leasing Mitchell International Airport, the Timmerman idea took wing at a Common Council committee meeting this week. Aldermen Bob Bauman and Jim Bohl mused about moving Timmerman's operations from the northwest side to the south side property now occupied by the U.S. Air Force Reserve's 440th Airlift Wing after the military unit leaves Mitchell.
But it didn't take long for county officials to ground the concept. The idea of mixing Timmerman's small propeller planes with Mitchell's jet airliners was swiftly shot down by the county airport chief and supervisors on both sides of the Mitchell privatization issue.
Last year, the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission decided to move the 440th to Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. It is not clear when the unit would move, but County Executive Scott Walker has pushed to use its land for airport expansion, while Mayor Tom Barrett has suggested a business park.
Separately, several supervisors this month started discussing the option of selling or leasing Mitchell to a private airport operator, as a way to raise money for the cash-strapped county while retaining some control over the airport's future.
The issues came together Monday, when the council's Judiciary & Legislation Committee endorsed creating a new city-county-state panel to decide what to do with the 440th base once it becomes vacant. The Milwaukee 440th Local Redevelopment Authority would come up with a plan for reusing the roughly 100 acres now used for the base and would submit that plan to the U.S. Department of Defense, which owns the land, said Sharon Cook, the city's chief lobbyist.
As the council committee discussed the redevelopment authority, Bauman said Bohl, whose district includes Timmerman, had mentioned the idea of moving Timmerman's operations to the 440th land.
After the meeting, Bohl said demand for single-family housing has been rising on the northwest side and this could be "an opportune situation." Bauman pointed to Glenview, Ill., where housing, shops, restaurants and parks have been developed on the site of a former naval air station.
But the federal government views those situations differently. Redevelopment of bases is encouraged as part of the base-closing process, while the Federal Aviation Administration opposes razing airports that have accepted federal funds. The FAA tried to fine Chicago Mayor Richard Daley for turning his city's lakefront Meigs Field into a park.
County Airport Director C. Barry Bateman, who runs both Mitchell and Timmerman, said the two airports serve different functions, and flight delays would rise at Mitchell if it had to absorb Timmerman's operations. Besides, at nearly 358 acres, Timmerman is more than three times the size of the 440th base, Bateman noted.
Although Bohl said he wasn't advocating the idea, its origin was immediately obvious to the county supervisor who represents the Timmerman area.
"That's Jim Bohl," Supervisor Roger Quindel said. "He's the only one talking about this."
Quindel said a Mitchell-Timmerman combination "doesn't make any sense whatsoever." He and Supervisor James White, chairman of the County Board's Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee, said the county wants the 440th base for Mitchell expansion.
White also opposes selling or leasing Mitchell, saying, "It's way too early to be talking about something like that." Quindel was one of the supervisors exploring privatization.
Walker spokeswoman Fran Rudig said she wasn't aware of any discussions about selling Timmerman.
The idea of mixing Timmerman's small propeller planes with Mitchell's jet airliners was swiftly shot down by the county airport chief.
Federal officials insist on steps to ensure that airliners don't skid off runways into traffic on nearby streets.
The idea faces significant legal and political hurdles, but little-used federal legislation provides an opening for local governments to experiment with airport privatization
Spinning off Mitchell Int'l Airport to a regional authority has long been a priority of local business leaders, who say Mitchell is a regional economic asset, not just a county service.