HEBRON, Ky. -- The airport is in the real estate business these days.
CVG stands to make millions leasing hundreds of acres south of the airport -- land that once belonged to farmers.
The Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport either took the land from homeowners and farmers, or they purchased it under threat of condemnation. In either case, the airport paid for the land with your tax dollars, and now it is leasing it out to factories and warehouses that have nothing to do with aviation.
The largest parcel belonged to Richard Boh's father. He sold 238 acres to the airport in 1977, but Richard says his father was forced to sell.
"He could have developed the land, and was gonna develop it eventually," said Richard Boh. "When the airport came and said they're going take it, why a developer wouldn't talk to him anymore."
The Boh farm would sit empty for more than 30 years. The airport did nothing with it until recently.
Buy low, sell high
Boh says his father got $4,000 an acre. In today's dollars, adjusted for inflation, that adds up to $3.5 million.
But the airport will make that amount leasing just 11 acres -- 5 percent of the original Boh farm.
CVG has already leased that part of the former Boh property to ZF Steering for a new factory and warehouse. Boh's father was paid $44,000 for that land in 1977.
ZF will pay the airport more than $70,000 in the first year alone.
The 38-year lease will bring in $3,435,098 for those 11 acres, and more than $10 million when added with another 22 acre parcel from the old Foltz farm.
The airport will still own all this land. The money it will earn will be as the landlord.
'Free Road' -- Big Profit
All of this is possible because of a brand new road currently under construction. Boone County is building the new South Airfield Road to connect KY-18 with Turfway and Houston Roads.
"It will open up land for job creation, and be a tremendous reliever of congestion," said Boone County Judge Executive Gary Moore.
Moore says the airport gave more than a hundred acres of land to the county as a right of way for the new road. No money changed hands.
That happened, in part, because the airport took Hossman Road on the other side of the airport for the construction of a new runway. The county was paid for the value of the old road, and promised the right of way for a new one.
"It opens up hundreds of acres of property along the south part of the airport," said Moore. "That's land that could very easily be industrial sites."
The airport is the largest property owner along the new road. CVG estimates it has 344 acres of land it could develop as frontage real estate. The airport has commissioned a study to see what businesses may fit best with its mission.
The new road will turn 800 acres of inaccessible agricultural land into prime real estate.
Former property owners elsewhere around the airport have sued CVG to get commercial -- rather than residential -- rates for their land.
The airport argued in one case that a widow's land on the airport's northwest side was not accessible to commercial traffic. The appeal went all the way to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Last year justices agreed with Cordelia Baston and her attorney Philip Taliaferro, who argued, "the airport is a large wealthy entity running rough-shod over a poor widowed woman."
Now the airport is helping to build a road that will offer commercial access to former farm land on its south side -- something it argued could not be done in the Baston case .
Meanwhile the airport has made other farmers into millionaires. Some former land owners were offered tens of thousands of dollars per acre. One father contacted the I-Team to say the $1.73 million he was paid by the airport funded his kids' education and gave them a life they never could have imagined before.
Who Should Profit?
The airport is leasing the land because CVG would have to return to the federal government any tax money originally used to purchase the property.
"If the land was purchased with federal dollars," said Moore, "those dollars from the sale go back to the feds. If they lease the property, then the revenue from the property stays local."
The airport can use those profits to offset its operating expenses, and fund improvements, like the renovations of Concourse A.
Former land owners aren't happy to see the airport make money from property they say they were forced to leave.
"They did it to everybody, "said Betty Sallee. "And then years later they're going to turn around and make a profit off of the land they took from us? That's not right."
Sallee and her husband were evicted from their home to make way for a new runway 20 years ago. Their property is vacant today, and it will remain undeveloped because it is a buffer-zone around the runway.
But Sallee says she feels for her former neighbors, like Richard Boh.
"If they make a profit," said Sallee, "then they should have given that profit to the last owner. They should get the profit, not the airport."
Even though memories are lasting in this area of Boone County, it has been more than 30 years for most of the farmers who sold or were forced out. The airport officials and board members who made those decisions are long gone.
"We can't talk to the whys or the hows of what our airport leadership did back in the 1960s and 70s," said CVG spokesperson Barb Schempf. "What I can say though is thanks to their foresight to look to the future and buy this property that this airport was able to grow over the last 50 years."
Candace McGraw, the airport's new CEO, was more direct. "Certainly I understand the position of the families, and I do understand where they're coming from," McGraw said.
"My charge however is to operate this business as effectively a I can, and that's what we'll continue to do."
The ZF project alone will bring in nearly 400 new jobs. The new road will offer welcome relief to drivers who are sometimes forced to wait two or three cycles of the traffic signals at KY-18 and Houston Road. They'll be able to bypass the busy retail areas and head directly for I-71/I-75 at Turfway.
Seven private property owners sold parcels to the county for the road -- there were zero condemnations according to Moore. Those property owners will retain frontage property they too can develop as commercial real estate
The South Airfield Road project is under budget and ahead of schedule.
When South Airfield Road opens at the end of next summer, everyone will benefit.
Everyone except some of the families who once called this land home.
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