Central Illinois Airport Looks To Develop 700 Acres

April 21, 2014
CIRA has hired Springfield consulting firm Crawford Murphy & Tilly to analyze 11 spots on the airport's 2,000-acre property for possible development

April 19--BLOOMINGTON -- The Central Illinois Regional Airport's long-term plan to develop about 700 acres includes property along East Empire Street and Towanda Barnes Road and open ground south of the airport along Ireland Grove Road.

CIRA has hired Springfield consulting firm Crawford Murphy & Tilly to analyze 11 spots on the airport's 2,000-acre property for possible development. The airport is paying Crawford $26,000 for the study.

Carl Olson, CIRA executive director, said Friday the airport authority expects to get an initial report in about 60 days.

The purpose, he said, is to find ways to generate additional revenue for the airport that doesn't come directly from CIRA operations.

"The airport needs to operate like a business, and just like any business, we need to identify new revenue streams," Olson said.

Developments could include retail, light industrial or commercial businesses. Olson said the airport authority has not determined how much additional revenue it hopes to generate.

"This will take years and years. It is not like we're going to snap our fingers and something is going to be there. This is a long-term initiative," he said.

Part of the process includes review by the Federal Aviation Administration. All of the projects would have to abide by FAA regulations and would include environmental assessments, Olson said.

"For example, you wouldn't want to put a cellular tower or a wind turbine on airport property," he said.

The development plans do not include the Prairie City Soccer League fields on the airport's property. The 60 acre-soccer fields will be turned into farmland when the league's lease ends in 2018. Olson said the FAA asked the airport not to renew the league's lease and noted that the 700 acres for potential development would not include similar recreation activities.

Airport leaders hope the study will identify areas that could be leased to developers and businesses. Some of the 700 acres includes farmland, Olson noted.

"The reason for farming is it makes use of the property while it is sitting there not being used for something else and it generates revenue for the airport," he said, adding that any developments proposed for farmland would have to generate more revenue than farming.

The increased revenue would allow the airport to continue to be competitive with other airports and help maintain air service.

"The less money we have to charge airlines to operate here, the easier it is for them to be profitable," Olson said.

Ken Springer, vice president of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, said the land would be appealing to developers because it is flat, is close to CIRA, and has access to utilities and nearby interstate highways and rail lines.

"The land around CIRA is straight-up good development ground, any way you look at it," Springer said.

The development plans are part of the airport's master plan, which was completed in 2006, and officially approved by the FAA in 2009. Olson said initial discussions to develop the 700 acres started in 2006, but they were put on hold when the recession hit.

"We could just construct something, but if there isn't a market for it and it doesn't complement the community, then it will not be successful. That's why it is important to do proper planning and research ahead of time to identify the best uses," he said.

Locations that could be developed include land west of the airport's main runway along Streid Drive; land directly west of the airport terminal along East Empire Street; land north of East 1300 North Road and west of south Towanda Barnes Road; and land north of Ireland Grove Road and east of Streid Drive.

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