Sunday, June 22, 2014

Outagamie County Regional Airport (KATW) could see major upgrades, expansion

GREENVILLE — Outagamie County intends to maintain its forward momentum by making improvements at its growing airport.

Outagamie County Regional Airport leaders recently finished a five-year plan that calls for aviation-based and business-related infrastructure improvements to be completed by the end of 2020. The projects — many dependent on the availability of state and federal dollars — would total $140 million.

The County Board will vote Tuesday on whether to support the plan.

“It’s pretty aggressive,” airport director Abe Weber said.

The plan for 2015 includes construction of a north general aviation ramp and a feasibility study on replacement of the air traffic control tower. In 2016, the airport would build a rental car facility separate from the terminal. In 2018, the airport would expand its air cargo facility and begin construction of aviation infrastructure for a new business park.

Heavy construction would get underway in 2019, including an extension of the shorter of its two runways from 6,500 to 8,000 feet. Depending on the results of the feasibility study, the airport would design and build a new air traffic control tower on its west side away from the main campus. The 2019 plan also calls for construction of a $19.2 million parking structure.
Key goals

Weber said the plan addresses several key goals — one of which is ensuring the airport is a vibrant business center as well as an active transportation hub.

The airport is self sustaining and must remain off the tax rolls. “That’s core to our strategy,” Weber said. “We need tenants renting space and growing here.”

County Executive Tom Nelson said the aggressive pace of the improvements is a matter of seizing opportunity. He called the airport “the main stage” when it comes to economic development in the Fox Valley.

“We’ve done so much, and there’s still so much more we can do,” he said.

Nelson cited a 2008 economic impact study that showed the airport contributed more than $400 million into the local economy and that the airport is directly and indirectly responsible for more than 2,600 jobs.
New business

Bringing in new business is high on the list of priorities.

A 150-acre business park would be built on the northwest side of the airport. The proposal comes as leaders continue to market a vacant — yet ready-for-construction — park on the airport’s north side.

Building on publicly owned land and leasing that space won’t appeal to every business, but it’s a strategy that makes sense, said Larry Burkhardt, executive vice president of the Fox Cities Regional Partnership.

A number of airports have moved ahead in similar fashion, he said, pointing to Outagamie County Regional Airport’s largest tenant — Gulfstream Aerospace — in highlighting the opportunities that airport-based business can bring to a community. Gulfstream’s operation here has nearly 900 employees with well-paying jobs, Burkhardt said.
Economic advantage

The airport’s plans come on the heels of several years of major efforts and significant investment. Last year, the airport opened a new $3.6 million general aviation terminal on the south side of the grounds. It’s complemented by a $650,000, 12,000-square-foot hangar. Kimberly-Clark Corp. built an adjacent hangar.

Nearby, Fox Valley Technical College is preparing to open its 91,600-square-foot public safety training center.

This year, crews moved a 150,000-square-foot hangar south to a new location away from the terminal to provide space should Gulfstream expand.

A major ongoing effort for the airport this year is securing a U.S. Customs office. To maximize marketing, the county board has approved a name change to Appleton Airport or Appleton International Airport. The name will depend on customs service being granted.

Nelson said the airport is a proven job creator and hasn’t reached its full potential.

“If there’s an opportunity to leverage our economic advantage, we’ll take it,” he said.


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