Saturday, April 15, 2017

Lakeland Linder Regional Airport (KLAL) customs office may get funds

City commissioners on Monday are expected to consider a more than $1 million price tag for a customs office and an agreement with the airport’s fixed-based operator to help fund it.

LAKELAND — City commissioners on Monday are expected to consider a handful of airport-related items, including a more than $1 million price tag for a customs office and an agreement with the airport’s fixed-based operator to help fund it.

Setting up the U.S. Customs office at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport was originally estimated to cost $300,000 to be paid for with matching grants by the Polk County Tourism Development Council and the Florida Department of Transportation. It was scheduled to open in March.

But during the design phase of the project, which will renovate the airport’s old terminal facility into the customs office, it was determined that it would cost more money to install the data cabling and electrical components required for the operation, said Gene Conrad, the airport’s director.

The project was put on hold for five months while Conrad and his team sought additional funding sources.

FDOT agreed to put $393,000 more toward the project. And Sheltair, the airport’s fixed-based operator, worked out a deal the commission will vote on Monday to front the project $400,000.

“As soon as this is approved Monday, Sheltair will cut us a check for $400,000 and we’ll be moving forward with that project,” Conrad said.

In return for Sheltair’s $400,000, the city would agree to fund $150,000 toward the construction of a 20,000-square-foot hangar for the operator and freeze its $225,700 annual rent for 2018 and 2019. The operator’s rent would increase to its already-scheduled 2020 amount that year, $241,000, Conrad said.

“The investment for us, and as far as what Sheltair is putting into the deal, it’s a net-neutral, but provides us the funds for the customs project,” Conrad said.

The customs office will allow easier entry for tourism charters, business flights and local pilots who travel to the Caribbean and Latin America. It will also be a step toward accepting international cargo and produce.

The Real Estate & Transportation Committee, made up of City Commissioners Bill Read, Justin Troller and Phillip Walker, unanimously approved the agreement Friday.

The commission is expected to vote Monday on the agreement, as well as a $742,000 contract with Strickland Construction for the project and an agreement with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to reimburse the department about $134,000 for equipment and pay $7,200 annually in communication costs.

The customs office is expected to open in October.

In other airport-related business Friday, the Real Estate & Transportation Committee unanimously approved a lease agreement with Griff Aviation North America — a Norwegian company that has developed a heavy lift drone capable of lifting 400 pounds.

The company plans to lease 4,900 square feet on the south side of the airport for $4,492 a month for three years. There, it will assemble heavy lift drones for distribution in the U.S. market.

Read asked whether the airport has any issues with drones and if the city has an ordinance regulating them.

“To be honest, we’re super supportive of it (drones),” Conrad said. “It’s an industry that’s growing leaps and bounds.”

The city doesn’t have an ordinance and drones are mostly regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, City Attorney Tim McCausland said.

Cities, including Miami, however, have ordinances to regulate drones at the local level, Conrad said. He added that an ordinance is something Lakeland can look into.

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