Friday, August 19, 2016

Council Balks at Lebanon Municipal Airport (KLEB) Proposal

Lebanon, New Hampshire   — City councilors told airport officials on Monday that there’s a limit to how much they’re willing to spend on the Lebanon Municipal Airport.

Some councilors balked at a proposal to hire a consultant for an airport business plan, saying the $70,000 asking price was too much for work that could be done in-house. Others weren’t convinced developing the airport property and attracting more commerce there is best for Lebanon.

“I, at this point, cannot support spending yet another large lump of money on an overall, overarching business plan for this airport,” City Councilor Tim McNamara said in audio of the meeting. “I think we can do it in a more diffuse way and have potentially as positive an impact for a whole lot less money.”

The city approved a 20-year plan to fix federal safety issues at the airport in February.

While much of the $46.7 million cost to complete improvements will be shouldered by the Federal Aviation Administration and state, about $1.9 million will be paid from city coffers.

The airport itself isn’t financially self sufficient.

It required $40,000 from the city in 2015, and $110,300 this year to continue operations.

The completion of the master plan brought about calls for a business plan, said City Councilor Suzanne Prentiss. She requested Wednesday’s meeting, and said a plan for business and development will help move projects forward.

“I don’t want to waste any more money on consultants and plans that we don’t actually do something with,” she said on Thursday. “I think it’s bad practice to pay for a plan and do nothing with it.”

Airport Manager Rick Dyment said the master plan answered some questions, but those were mostly related to aviation and infrastructure, and not development. To generate revenue, he said, the city needs to determine the best and most profitable uses of the property.

“The intent is to go beyond the study, beyond the report and actually get people to sign a lease for those uses,” he said in the audio recording.

Dyment said there are several areas available for lease, such as a vacant restaurant space and three large parcels north and southeast of the runway. A local company has also expressed interest in renting the unused executive ramp and a large hanger there, he said.

“I feel the purpose of Lebanon’s airport is to focus on larger aircraft or business aircraft, whether it’s a turbo prop, whether it’s a jet,” Dyment said. “The surrounding airports — Claremont, Newport — do a really good job with the small fliers, but they can’t accommodate the businesses traveler like we are.”

To better set Lebanon apart, he proposed a marketing and branding plan.

McNamara praised possible talks to rent out the executive ramp, but said hiring a commercial real estate broker would be a cheaper way to connect with prospective renters. Many know the area, he said, and would be equipped to tell the city what to expect.

“I just don’t see the need for us to go out on, and seek proposals for and then spend potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a business plan where we could get that data more quickly and better somewhere else,” McNamara said during the meeting.

As for bringing in additional air service, he doubted there was truly a market for more flights.

Lebanon Municipal Airport is currently served by Cape Air, which offers direct flights to Boston and White Plains, N.Y. McNamara said the city was once served by three airlines, which flew to more places, though.

“We have one airline who’s on subsidized service through the FAA and if the subsidy’s gone, they’re gone,” he said. “I don’t need anybody else to tell me that, our consultants on the matter plan told us that.”

Councilor Bruce Bronner agreed and said it’s too early to talk of business consultants, especially when councilors don’t agree on the airport’s future.

“Highest and best use I’m not sure is best for Lebanon,” he said. “Getting larger planes and more frequent flights, I don’t agree with. I don’t see how that’s good for Lebanon.”

But Mayor Georgia Tuttle asked the council to keep an open mind. If the board decided to do nothing, it’s possible the status quo would continue, she said.

“The public has told us that they want to us to find a way to make the airport financially viable,” she said, adding that an airport-specific consultant could have ideas that local realtors do not.

Ultimately, the council decided to compile and study past reports and airport master plans before creating a plan for business with city staff. Interim City Manager Paula Maville said on Thursday the council has not scheduled another date to discuss a business plan.


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