Positioned for Development: A new terminal, 10,000-foot runway, and political structure have Greeley-Weld poised

May 8, 2004


Positioned For Development

A new terminal, 10,000-foot runway, and political structure have Greeley-Weld poised

John F. Infanger

May 2004

GREELEY, CO — In 1944, city officials here managed to get a new municipalairport built in the middle of a World War. They wouldn't recognizethe place, but would the initiative, following recent reconstructionefforts that have turned a quiet general aviation facility into a first-ratecorporate airport, one also positioned for industrial and cargo development. It's an example of how a local community, a state, and the federal government can reposition an airport through commitment, direction, and proper funding.

Today, the Greeley-Weld County Airport , situated some 40 miles north of Denver, is operated by an independent airport authority, and has just completed $25 million in infrastructure improvements that include a $750,000 terminal and a new 10,000-foot runway. This is no longer your typical general aviation airport; yet, the mix of light aircraft and bizjets continues to evolve and is expected to continue to do so as economic development efforts ensue. There are plans to reinforce the taxiway and ramp system to be able to accommodate smaller airline-category cargo haulers — part of the push to bring in new industrial development.

Also ahead: installation of security fencing and access controls to make the airfield more competitive with other airports that can offer safe haven to corporates in this era of threat; an air traffic control tower; and development of the next 48 acres of on-airport property, bringing new b usiness to the surrounding acreage, which offers access to major state and federal highways.

Michael A. Reisman, A.A.E., airport manager, Greeley-Weld County Airport

Public-Private History
The city of Greeley owned and operated the airport until the 1960s, according to airport manager Michael A. Reisman, A.A.E., at which time the city joined up with Weld County . In 1978, the two formed the independent Greeley-Weld County Airport Authority and, in 1983, transferred ownership of all of the airport's assets to the authority. It operates under an Enterprise Fund, generating some $700,000 in annual revenues with expenses estimated at $650,000.

For some 14 years, says Reisman, the airport also operated the FBO services until they were privatized in 2000. Today, Harris Jet Center and Trajen Flight Support serve as the fixed base operators, with another eleven businesses on-airport, including a college flight academy, avionics, maintenance, propeller service, charter, and aircraft salvage.

Recalls Reisman, "Ultimately, what we recognized was that in order for the airport to really be successful in terms of its future growth, we were going to have to ensure that there was a way to provide for more development for accommodating business activity on the airport.

"We didn't see ourselves having the budget to do that, so bringing in an outside company that had capital to make the investment was the way we wanted to go. Preferably, with a company that was part of an FBO chain," which Trajen is.

Subsequently, long-time maintenance provider Harris Aviation formed a sister company, Harris Jet Center , to serve as the airport's second FBO. In all, Reisman says, the FBOs pump some 750,000 gallons annually. There are 223 based aircraft at Greeley-Weld, from experimentals to corporates.

"From a numbers standpoint, it was a benefit to the authority," says Reisman of the FBO transfer. "When we gave up the FBO services we lost all the direct sales; but, we also lost the overhead. We had nine employees on the FBO side who were all hired by the new FBO.

"The deal we worked out actually resulted in the total surplus revenue over expenses going up by about 10 percent."

The Greeley-Weld County Airport terminal capped a $1.85 million infrastructure upgrade that includes an entrance road, sewer, water, and ramp. It was funded with assistance from the Colorado Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance program because of the heavy use of the facilities by oil and gas firms.

Success Getting $$$
Getting the FBO services in place was one step; the larger one was remaking the airfield to serve corporate operators and, in time, cargo operations related to the sought-after industrial development.

"This airport has been very successful in the past six to seven years in securing discretionary money [from the Airport Improvement Program]," says Reisman. "We built a $23 million runway complex entirely with discretionary money."

He has also had success getting discretionary funds from the state, and funding from the Colorado Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance program went for the new terminal facility. "That's money that comes from user fees in the oil and gas industry," explains Reisman. "There are seven oil and gas companies in Weld County that either own an aircraft or use this airport to varying degrees. In part, the terminal building is intended to serve the oil and gas users of this airport."

With a new master plan complete, the focus is on attracting businesses to 48 acres of airport property. In all, estimates Reisman, the airport has identified some 280 acres for ultimate development.

The Next Targets
In line with business development, says Reisman, is additional airfield upgrades to increase the load-bearing capacity of taxiways and ramps for cargo aircraft. And, with increasing aircraft operations (today at 145,000), a control tower is quickly becoming a priority, he says.

Also underway is installation of security fencing and access control. Part of the airfield is already very secure, with the Colorado Air National Guard operating the only mobile NORAD facility in the world for the U.S. Air Force, according to Reisman. A key reason for the security upgrade, he explains, is it's what corporate operators want. Some currently ferry to nearby airports for overnight security, he says.

Inadvertent Taxation

In 2002, Colorado began collecting the Possessory Interest Tax, which taxes companies that profit on tax-exempt public property. Airports, it seems, were an inadvertent target.

That's the word from Greeley-Weld County Airport manager Mike Reisman, who serves on the Board of Directors for the Colorado Airport Operators Association. The tax is possibly the top issue for the group, he says.

"It started out, actually, with the ski resorts and the sports venues," he explains. "Some of the ski resorts are on federal land, and sports venues are owned by the City and County of Denver . You had private companies or organizations generating millions of dollars of revenue off of tax-exempt property that nobody was paying taxes on.

"None of the tenants [historically] on this airport have had to pay property taxes on land that they were leasing because the airport was a tax-exempt entity. This had nothing to do with airports; airports were just unfortunately dragged into it."

The issue has already been fought hard, having gone all the way to the state's Supreme Court. Says Reisman, "There's been legislation proposed to exclude certain entities, including airports, but it's not really going anywhere."