Saturday, September 17, 2016

'The front door to our future': City aims for federal aid for airport

ASHEBORO — City officials hope to get $3 million — or more — in federal funds to help finance a new terminal at Asheboro Regional Airport.

Toward that end, at their regular September meeting on Thursday night, members of the Asheboro City Council approved a contract to hire a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm to help find the money.

The year-long contract, effective through Aug. 31, 2017, authorizes The Franklin Partnership to provide “comprehensive federal affairs representation” for a retainer fee of $4,250 per month, plus out-of-pocket expenses.

Mayor Pro Tem Walker Moffitt said representatives of the firm came to town for a meeting held at the airport to see the current facilities, to review plans for a proposed terminal and to talk about what has been done to date, which includes courting local and state support for the project.

“They believed we had every tool they needed to help us,” Moffitt said. “… I feel very good about our chances, and I feel very good about them.”

Federal purpose

City Manager John Ogburn said Friday that an upgrade at the airport would serve a federal purpose — an important factor in seeking federal monies — because a better facility could better serve a megasite on the Randolph-Guilford border.

“It’s a regional megasite,” Ogburn said. “And I don’t mean it’s a regional site in the state. It’s a regional site in the southeastern United States.”

A second federal purpose of significance, he said, is that an improved facility also would better serve Operation Robin Sage, which already utilizes the airport in its exercises. Robin Sage is a two-week exercise run several times a year in 15 rural North Carolina counties, including Randolph, for Special Forces candidates at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School based out of Fort Bragg.

Game of addition

The city has $1.3 million toward construction of a new terminal. Members of the airport authority have pledged to raise half a million dollars in a private campaign. If the county contributes $500,000, Ogburn said, and the city can get $3 million to $3.5 million in federal funding, the effort will be closing in on the projected $7.5 million cost of terminal plans unveiled last year.

“We’re pretty much committed to build whatever we have the money for,” Ogburn said, adding that a terminal could be built in phases, if necessary.

Ogburn said the city will apply early next year for an economic development assistance grant — through the U.S. Economic Development Administration, a bureau in the U.S. Department of Commerce — with an eye toward receiving funding in the fourth quarter of the 2016-17 federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2017.

A local contingent will travel to the nation’s capital early in the new year to make a presentation about the proposed terminal. If the effort is successful, he said, construction could begin in March 2018 — about 18 months from now.

“We’ve got a ways to go,” Ogburn said, “but we feel good about our chances.”

‘Front door to future’

The current terminal is more than 40 years old. A proposal for a two-story, 22,739-square-foot terminal was presented last October during a special joint meeting of the Asheboro City Council, the Randolph County Commissioners and the Asheboro Airport Authority. The proposed facility built of glass, block and stone is designed to look like an airplane wing from the air.

City staff have been working on indoor remodeling, including HVAC and bathroom upgrades, at the current terminal. If a new terminal is built, the old one would not be torn down. Plans call for using it as a base for flight instruction.

The airport on Pilots View Road, off N.C. 49 west of town, was established in its present location in the mid-1960s. It is one of 26 business class size airports in the state and sees more than 125 flights per week. The runway is more than a mile long, enough to accommodate most business jets. The facility also has a full-length taxiway.

The state completed an economic impact survey of North Carolina’s airports in 2012 and set the annual economic contribution of Asheboro’s airport at $5.9 million. The tax value of airplanes hangared at the Asheboro airport contributes to city and county coffers the tax equivalent of about 42 homes worth $121,000.

With improved facilities, proponents say, the number of planes that call the Asheboro airport home could double in a decade.

“We do think,” Ogburn said, “the airport is kind of the front door to our future.”


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