Queen City Airport's Future is Up in the Air

Sep. 23--A developer has proposed moving Allentown's Queen City Airport to an airfield in Heidelberg Township to pave the way for redevelopment of the general aviation airport near Interstate 78.

Carver Mills Properties wants to move Queen City to Flying M Aerodrome in Germansville so the 208-acre parcel on Lehigh Street, which city officials have long considered valuable, developable land, could be converted into a commercial property.

Carver has been working with the city since 2000 to find a new site for the airport.

The move would need to be approved by Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, which owns Queen City. Even if the authority gives the green light, officials say it would take several years to build the replacement airport. Flying M is a grass airstrip with limited facilities that would require a complete overhaul to provide the same services as Queen City.

"The airport authority has no interest in relocating Queen City," said George Doughty, executive director of the airport authority. "That's not the same as saying we are opposed to it."

Andy Baker, a partner at Carver Mills, provided scant information Wednesday in a brief presentation to a subcommittee of the authority board, which also owns Lehigh Valley International Airport. Baker intends to unveil a formal proposal to the full board Tuesday at the authority's monthly meeting.

Carver Mills, which has offices in Doylestown and Johnstown, Cambria County, was enlisted by former Mayor William L. Heydt in 2000 to find possible sites for a new airfield outside the city, and the developer has also worked with the current city administration on Queen City.

Smaller airports such as Queen City ease some of the crowding at larger airports because they provide alternate landing and storage space for noncommercial, privately owned planes. Queen City, which was once owned by the city of Allentown, is a reliever airport for LVIA that allows the larger facility to accommodate primarily commercial airplanes.

City officials have long considered the redevelopment of Queen City as the fiscal savior of Allentown that would provide much-needed tax revenue and offer an enticing location to companies and developers. People involved with the project say any parcel with such convenient access to I-78 would be easily redeveloped. Because the airport is owned by a government entity, it does not pay taxes.

What the current proposal consists of remains largely unclear because Baker declined to provide details when reached by phone Thursday. He did not provide a copy of his proposal to airport officials Wednesday. A 2003 economic impact study Carver Mills commissioned foresaw a mixed-use complex with office, retail and light industrial space.

Heidelberg Township supervisors haven't been contacted about the proposal, said Barry Mantz, the township's administrative manager and zoning officer.

"It's news to me," Mantz said Thursday. "It's a total surprise."

Peter Maniscalco, the owner of Flying M, referred questions about the project to Carver Mills officials. Maniscalco's small general aviation airport has about 20 airplane hangars, as well as outdoor storage space.

"The Flying M, as it is right now, is a significantly different airport," said Maniscalco, who is a pilot for American Airlines. "The proposal that is on the table is for the Flying M to meet or exceed the capabilities of Queen City airport."

Queen City provides fueling, repair and storage services for the small aircraft. It recently added 43 new airplane hangars. The land was once home to the former Consolidated-Vultee plant that manufactured military aircraft during World War II.

Airport officials say they have never pursued a relocation of Queen City but would not oppose it if there was a groundswell of community support for a commercial development on the site. But they said it would take three years to build a replacement airport on the new site, not including the time required to obtain environmental and building permits, and approval from Heidelberg Township.

"I am not opposed if people in the community think it's important for other reasons," Doughty said.

Doughty said there are other sites in Western Lehigh County that would be more suitable for the relocation of Queen City. He has discussed these sites with Carver Mills officials.

"We would probably have significant issues with Flying M with regard to its location and access," Doughty said.

The current proposal will come nearly nine months after an agreement between the city of Allentown and the airport authority to redevelop Queen City expired. Carver Mills sent airport officials some drawings for the new airport at the end of last year, Doughty said. But he said there was not enough time to consider the proposal before the agreement expired.

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