Thursday, April 10, 2014

Greeley-Weld County Airport (KGXY) draws attention through restaurant

Lovern Williams glances out the window as model planes hang over head at the Barnstormer Restaurant Thursday afternoon at the Greeley Airport. The Barnstormer open in 1990 and has since become one the main draws of the airport.

On a lazy Thursday morning, three men sat at the center of an east Greeley dining room where model airplanes hung from the ceiling and old wartime photos covered the walls.

From their table near the restaurant window, they looked out as Cessnas and helicopters landed and took off just a few hundred feet away.

“This here is probably the best spot,” said Jerry Harmen, a retired commercial pilot, as he dined at the Greeley-Weld County Airport’s Barnstormer restaurant.

During the week, a few groups of regulars pepper the Barnstormer’s tables “shooting the chat,” as they say, with Kathy the waitress.

But it has slowly gained the affinity of Greeley residents and pilots alike and, come Sunday brunch, it’s an hour wait to eat there.

When airport officials turn to bragging points, the Barnstormer takes center stage.

But those who run the airport say it’s still often out of sight, out of mind for much of the Greeley and Weld County community and beyond.

“We’ve decided that we need to be more up front with the community,” said Sean Conway, a member of the Airport Authority Board and a Weld County commissioner.

With a solid decade of financial success and the airport’s hangars right now at 95 percent full, Airport Manager Gary Cyr said public outreach will be a renewed effort for the airport this year and in the future.

In May, the airport will host a Learn to Fly Day. In June, the airport will take over a World War II Honor Flight previously hosted in Fort Collins. And in August, Cyr said he is proud to announce, the airport will hold an air show.

The completion of a new master plan also will kick off an array of improvement plans for the airport in coming years, Cyr said.

Revenue from multiple sources, including oil and gas royalties and discretionary funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, far outpaced estimates outlined in the last master plan, done in 2004, Cyr said.

He said the airport has signed a contract with Noble Energy to drill three additional wells on airport property this year, which could garner hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on their production. Revenue from previously producing wells on airport property peaked in 2009 at $900,000, Cyr said.

He said the airport also is still pursuing a solar farm, in which it would lease land for the panels and save on electricity costs. That project fell through last year, but Cyr said it remains a promising revenue source.

This year, Cyr said, several runways and a ramp are set for fog seal coats. Next summer, he said, they will look at about $800,000 worth of asphalt replacement on the West Complex, and in 2016, the airport’s 10,000-foot runway — the longest in northern Colorado — is set for a makeover of $5.5 million or more.

In a handout of the airport’s annual economic impact on the local economy, airport officials tout a $5 million yearly impact from its 23,000 visitors who spend money on food, retail, entertainment and transportation in Greeley and Weld County.

Members of the Airport Authority Board say with the right infrastructure and message, it could be even more.

“There are a tremendous number of people who are unaware of who we are, what we do, and where we are,” Cry said.

A home away from home

Back at the Barnstormer, Harmen said many pilots fly specifically to Greeley to eat at the restaurant.

“It’s got the best pancakes in town,” said John Warrender, who sat beside Harmen at breakfast.

”They could use them for hubcaps,” Harmen added with a laugh.

The pair and their friend, Joe Swank, meet weekly at the Barnstormer for eggs, bacon and those famously large pancakes. While they are from Greeley, people fly in from all over Colorado and even the Midwest just for a meal at the Barnstormer. Most of the time, they come through word of mouth.

Linda Belleau, the restaurant’s owner, started out as a waitress when she and her husband moved to Greeley from Iowa. Belleau bought the Barnstormer a few years after it opened in 1990, when it started out with a capacity for just 14 people.

From 6 a.m. until closing time, seven days per week, it’s still just Belleau in her black bejeweled Barnstormer hat, her husband, a cook, a dishwasher, a waitress and, on the weekends, a hostess.

Belleau said she can talk airplane shop with the patrons — her husband is a pilot — but she rarely gets a chance to fly because of the restaurant’s demands.

Still, she said she has grown close with a number of regulars. The photographs that practically wallpaper Belleau’s restaurant were all personal gifts, she said, and some regulars getting ready to leave town stop in and let her know so that she won’t worry.

Aside from pilots, who Belleau said are often caught showing curious kids around their aircraft, she gets retired doctors, sheriff’s deputies, ladies with the Red Hat Society, senior groups, real estate agents and a group from Iowa that makes it a point to stop at the Barnstormer for lunch when they visit each year.

“We try to make it their home,” Belleau said.

Story and photos: