Terminal expenses privately funded

Aug. 14, 2007
Tenants look to make Sikorsky Memorial Airport investment

STRATFORD -- Private investors are offering to replace the aging terminal at the Bridgeport-owned Sikorsky Memorial Airport with a $30 million complex, which two tenants plan to use as their headquarters.

Aircraft Facilities Group LLC, which won a bid to upgrade the airport two years ago, has filed an application with the town's Zoning Commission to build new headquarters for Volo Aircraft and PrivatAir Inc.

Volo's world headquarters is in Stratford. PrivatAir is an international company and Stratford is its North American headquarters.

AFG must also file a coastal site plan review because the airport abuts Long Island Sound marshlands. It is scheduled to make a presentation to the commission when it meets at 7 p.m. Aug. 21 in Town Hall.

Tom Harrow, a project manager for AFG and a Volo employee, said the group wants to make it clear, "This is not an airport expansion. We don't need the runway to be any bigger."

The Federal Aviation Administration wants the airport to extend the runway to accommodate buffer zones for safety, but Stratford officials and airport neighbors have opposed the proposal, as they have other attempts by Bridgeport to expand or upgrade the facilities over the years.

Harrow said the latest proposal calls for demolishing the old Sikorsky terminal and building a new aviation complex within its footprint. Three new hangars and another passenger/office building also are part of the proposal.

Volo and PrivatAir have been operating out of hangars built during World War II, and the new facilities are designed to allow the businesses to improve service, according to Harrow.

Volo intends to buy new, quieter aircraft, he said, but those planes need more maintenance.

Volo and PrivatAir operate out of Sikorsky, and primarily serve corporate fliers using aircraft based in Stratford.

"This is very exciting," Bridgeport Mayor John M. Fabrizi said of the proposal.

The mayor, who also is chairman of the Airport Commission, said AFG would not get any breaks on taxes or fees to build the new facilities, or will any public funds be used to finance the project.

He said this is the first major development at the airport since the existing facilities were built, and it "benefits both Bridgeport and Stratford."

Bridgeport will benefit because the two companies pay the city a percentage on their operations, and Stratford will receive taxes on the new structures and equipment at the airport since they would be privately owned.

"Stratford should be excited about that," Fabrizi said.

But the two communities have rarely seen eye-to-eye on the Stratford airport, which Bridgeport owns. For years, they have battled over noise and various plans to expand or upgrade the facilities.

Stratford Mayor James R. Miron recently offered to buy the airport from Bridgeport and Fabrizi said he is discussing that option with Miron, who did not respond to calls for comment Friday.

But Fabrizi said any deal on that front would be a long time coming, and that he still believes the state would be the best owner of the airport.

According to the zoning application, AFG proposes to build a 18,030-square-foot, two-story terminal and office building for Volo, which would also house airport management and operations.

The overall plan includes three new hangars, each of more than 30,000 square feet, and another passenger/office building for PrivatAir, which would be 16,880 square feet.

The project would create a new service loop road, walkways, lighting, improve parking and the storm drainage system.

Rob Varnon, who covers business, can be reached at 330-6216.