Hammond Officials See Growing Airport as Asset

With more than $100 million in improvements coming into the Hammond Northshore Regional Airport during the next few years, the regional airport is poised for growth.

The new military installation alone will bring more interest in residential development in the area and smaller businesses to support its operations near the Hammond airport, Basford said.

"What we believe is going to happen with the military moving in is that it's going to start the growth, or help the growth, of the east side of Hammond," Foster said. "It will bring a focus to our new business park at the airport exit."

The city has two industrial-business parks near the airport that are run by its two economic development arms.

Part of Basford's and Foster's confidence comes from history. When U.S. Customs and Border Protection located its Southeastern United States air operations at the Hammond airport in 2002, more businesses began to indicate an interest in the airport and the Federal Aviation Administration gave it higher priority for improvement projects such as the recent runway improvements, Foster said.

Officials of at least one business, Blessey Marine, told airport officials that the airport became more attractive to them when U.S. Customs arrived, Ball said. Blessey Marine, which stations its jets at the Hammond airport in connection with its tugboat services along the Mississippi River, set up near the U.S. Customs facility to connect to the ramp the federal agency installed and to be near a federal facility with tight security.

Basford said that with the Louisiana National Guard facility coming to Hammond airport, it is likely the FAA would look more favorably at any requests to fund future improvements to the airport.

Planned changes in how the airport is managed also may help it grow. The city of Hammond controls the operations of the airport, spending about $340,000 a year on maintenance, utilities and salaries of the airport's small administrative staff. All capital improvements have come from FAA and state funds.

The City Council must approve every lease at the airport, which is a process that can take up to 60 days, Foster said. The council must introduce an ordinance at one meeting and then hold a public hearing and vote on a final version of that ordinance at a second meeting.

The city is working on a plan to delegate its authority to approve market-rate leases to the Hammond Airport Authority, which now serves solely as an advisory board, Foster said.

Any lease that is based on a market rate could be approved by the board, which could meet on 24 hours' notice to approve a lease, Foster said. Leases such as the one awarded to the Louisiana National Guard for $1 a year for 99 years will still need council approval.

A preliminary analysis to determine what the market rate of land at the airport should be was given to the city, Foster said. But the analysis was sent back for further study because the rate seemed too high for the area, Foster said.

The preliminary report gave the airport a rate of 18 cents per square foot, Foster said. The airport now charges 12 cents per square foot to lease land, he said.

What makes him question the report is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted its own market study on the airport to determine rent on a tract of airport property for hurricane evacuee trailers, Foster said. FEMA's rate is 10 cents per square foot, and Foster said that FEMA is not known for giving low rates.

FEMA is seeking a contract to place trailers on the airport property for military personnel only, Foster said. The FAA would not allow anyone else to live on the airport property because the agency believes having someone without aircraft training would be a safety hazard, Foster said.

Hurricane Katrina seems to be accelerating the airport's growth in some respects, but officials said the airport was going to grow anyway.

"I feel as though the storm served as a catalyst to speed up the growth we had already anticipated for the parish," Basford said.

The military had contacted the Hammond airport about relocating operations there before Katrina struck Louisiana on Aug. 29.

"Before the hurricane, they had approached us about moving a military group here," Ball said. "After the hurricane, it became a reality that they wanted to move. Hammond looked really high and dry."

We Recommend