Thursday, November 21, 2013

End Of An Era: Monmouth Executive Airport (KBLM) Sold - Banner planes may be a casualty of the sale of the airport that Ed Brown built

The Monmouth Executive Airport -- for 75 years run by Ed Brown and, later, his family -- has been sold, airport officials said Thursday.

The airport has been bought by an investment group named Wall Aviation LLC, a  group that has been in negotiations to buy the 645-acre airport on Route 34 for more than a dozen years, according to Richard A. Asper, chairman of Florida-based Aviation Professionals Group, a consulting company hired to shepherd Wall Aviation through the sale.

Portions of the sale were complete months ago, while some contingencies – such as a signoff from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Township of Wall – have been completed in recent days, Asper said.

The sale price is not being disclosed, Asper said.

Changes at the airport will be immediate, Asper said.

“This airport is going to join the 21st Century,’’ Asper said. “This is an airport that deserves to be first class.’’

To that end, the airport’s service station, or FBO, will be taken over by a new company – AvFuel -- effective Friday, Asper said.

The airport will beef up its safety measures, including closing off airstrips to airport tenants, and its infrastructure will be maintained and upgraded, Asper said.

“There’s going to be a completely different airport environment, not just paint and new signs,’’ Asper said. “It’s really the whole concept and notion of how to run a first-class airport, not like a hobby airport.”

Those changes may put out some of the airport’s current tenants, however.

Asper said those tenants who run “hybrid’’ businesses at Monmouth Executive, such as the Jersey Shore Skydiving or the planes flying advertising banners in the summer, may not mesh with the new vision of the airport.

“It’s very difficult to convince the pilot of a $30 million airplane to land here when he’s got to look out for people falling out of the sky,’’ Asper said.

The airport has a large number of other tenants, many of which have nothing to do with aviation, including a bank branch, a custom motorcycle shop and a two used tire sales businesses, among others.

Asper said all the tenants, who rent their space on a monthly basis, will be talked to in the coming weeks about the new vision for the airport.

“I’m hoping they’ll be all reasonable folks and anxious to ride with the tide,’’ he said.

The banner planes, nearly ubiquitous with summer at the Jersey Shore, are a business Asper said the new company likes, but he added that the fit with the airport is not exact.

“They don’t  need a 7,000-foot airstrip to be in the banner business,’’ he said. “They will be ebbing out and we hope to help them relocate to an airport that is more conducive.”

Asper said Wall Aviation did not expect an increase in air traffic, but instead a change to the kind of traffic. He said he expected more corporate and private jets, which fly less frequently than banner planes and are quieter.

"If anything you'll find that the airport is going to be quieter than it has been in the past,''  he said.

Asper said Wall Aviation has been trying to buy the airport from the Brown family, and Ed Brown specifically prior to his death in 2006, for a dozen years.

Haggling over the price with Ed Brown was the first barrier, Asper said, followed by Brown’s decision to offer the airport to Monmouth County for $1 million more than the negotiated price the two sides agreed to, and finally negotiations over the cleanup of a superfund site on the airport property and more than $2 million in back taxes owed to Wall Township clogged the works, Asper said.

About 30 years ago, the airport had a tenant that manufactured computer circuit boards. Monitor Devicies/Intercircuits Inc., dumped waste water from the manufacturing process directly into the ground, contaminating about a 2-acrea area.

Once found out by the EPA, the company went under and the airport was left holding the bag for the cost of the cleanup. Brown, not known for backing down from anything, fought the EPA.

The airport eventually agreed to pay $20 million to clean up the site. Only about $500,000 of that has been paid, however. Wall Aviation will be held responsible for the remainder, according to the EPA.

Physical cleanup of the site has been completed by the EPA, but the agency will monitor the site for the next five years.

While battling over the cleanup, Brown also did not pay property taxes to Wall Township and the airport owed the town upwards of $2 million.

The township and Wall Aviation have agreed to a monthly payment plan with installments of $75,000. All money will be paid to the town by January, 2015.

Ed Brown, a supermarket cashier, started what was then Allaire Airport in 1938 when he borrowed a World War I tank from the borough of Belmar and rigged it to grade the 7,300-foot runway. He later added a 3,307-foot cross-runway.

Brown, who frequently tangled with township officials, did work on the airport himself, sometimes without the proper permits.

In the 1980s, he built a drive-in, fly-in movie theater where pilots could fly in and taxi to a parking spot behind rows of cars to watch a movie.

He built a bowling alley and converted one side of it to a nightclub. He had a golf driving range and once built an amusement park at the airport with a mini-railroad, ferris wheel and carousel.

Ed Brown died in 2006. The airport has been run by his step son, Jack Taylor, since that time.

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