Midland Airpark Relocation: Threatening the sacred cow

From today's Midland Reporter-Telegram, in a report on the City Council's recent goal-setting retreat:
Mayor Wes Perry brought one idea to the table that could provide a major thoroughfare from downtown to Loop 250. He said Midland Airpark could relocate so that "A" Street becomes a major north-to-south road, but it all depends on approval of the Federal Aviation Administration.
"We have to consider everything and look at all our options," Perry said regarding the limited discussion of the "A" Street expansion during the retreat. "If we can do it, great. If not, that's OK. We have to think outside the box, as though we are not limited."

I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. Airpark, for you non-residents, is a municipal airport that at one time resided on the outskirts of Midland but which is now completely surrounded by businesses, housing, and a thriving community college. It's also the closest thing we have to a sacred cow, politically shielded from any suggestion that its location might be a detriment to the economic well-being of the city due to the money and power of the relative few who value the field due to its proximity to their offices, and the convenience of access to their private aircraft.

Shielded until now, that is. Mayor Perry is the first high-ranking city official (who also happens to be a prominent businessman) in my memory to come out on record as suggesting that we should seriously consider relocating the airport. It will be interesting to see if his observations gain any traction.

I've previously expressed my opinion on this website about the advantages of freeing up almost 400 acres of prime real estate for commercial, retail, and residential development (and without getting too deep into the public safety aspects of its location, despite a number of crash-related fatalities over the years). And I've gotten some negative response, primarily from those in the aviation community who seem to think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

But as the city continues to grow, the inaccessibility of the airport acreage looms larger. Hundreds of people - and perhaps thousands - are forced to drive four extra miles every day to get to and return from their offices on "A" Street south of Loop 250, as the east runway approach has removed the possibility of direct access. The mayor's suggestion that we look at extending "A" Street past the airport so that it connects with the Loop is commonsense, as well as an example of favoring the majority over the minority.

The numbers are interesting. For the 12-month period ending September 26, 2012, the FAA reports that the airport averaged 77 "aircraft operations" per day. One takeoff equals one operation, as does one landing, as does one touch-and-go or low altitude pass (such as common in flight lessons). For comparison, Midland International Airport averages about 200 operations per day. Airpark is a busy little airfield, but I suspect a lot of that activity is related to flight lessons.

From an economic perspective, the question that needs to be answered is whether that land is worth more to the citizens of Midland as an airport or as developable real estate. The land is on the books with an appraisal of more than $17 million, but since it's owned by the city, there's no tax revenue. However, fees associated with the airport's operations generated 6% of the city's revenue in 2011 - about $9.6 million, according to the city's annual report. I don't have a rule-of-thumb to estimate what sort of tax revenues might be generated if the land was developed for private use; that would obviously depend on the types of development. And the calculus is complicated by the city's recent plans to offer the acreage for oil and gas leasing.

Nevertheless, the mayor's observation that extending "A" Street would be beneficial to a large number of citizens is indisputably accurate. I'm happy to see that the issue is being raised for discussion, and I hope it will generate some serious evaluation - the kind that involves an actual economic analysis rather than emotional and political posturing.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on March 10, 2013 6:52 PM.

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