Friday, November 27, 2020

Winter Haven to open 97 acres at regional airport to developers

Winter Haven Regional Airport General Manager Alex Vacha said It would like to attract a repair facility to work on multi-engine planes and corporate jets that are becoming a growing part of the airport’s traffic.

WINTER HAVEN, Florida – The city of Winter Haven is going into the real estate development business.

The City Commission has hired Hanson Professional Services Inc., a Maitland aviation industry consultant, to draw up a development plan for 97 undeveloped acres around the Winter Haven Regional Airport. The city will retain the local marketing agency Clark Nikdel Powell Inc. to promote the availability of the property to developers.

Hanson will take the next six months to produce a full service development plan for the airport property, including an inventory of current facilities and their conditions; an assessment of the airport’s strengths and weaknesses; and identifying strategic initiatives best suited for the airport. It also will work with Clark Nikdel Powell on developing a marketing plan.

The 520-acre airport property has three areas suitable for development, said Alex Vacha, the airport general manager, on Wednesday.

They are a 44-acre property in the northwest next to the main terminal and a seven-acre site on the northeast, both of which front U.S. 92 West, he said. Another 46-acre site on the east along 21st Street NW could be developed.

Other vacant areas of the airport property must be kept that way under Federal Aviation Administration regulations governing runway operations, Vacha said.

The city is looking for private aviation and non-aviation companies willing to build facilities on the property under a long-term lease, he said.

The inside properties close to the airport would be ideal for aviation companies, such as a flight school or maintenance and repair facility, Vacha said. The Winter Haven Airport has repair and maintenance companies working on single-engine general aviation aircraft, the most frequent users.

It would like to attract a repair facility to work on multi-engine planes and corporate jets that are becoming a growing part of the airport’s traffic, he said.

“As the airport continues to grow, we’re looking at companies to service larger aircraft,” Vacha said. “Right now, we’re focused on small, single-engine aircraft.”

Non-aviation companies would best suit the outside acreage fronting U.S. 92 West and 21st Street NW, he said. That includes manufacturers and a hotel.

The airport’s existing master plan envisions a hotel on the 44-acre northwest site, Vacha said.

The city also hopes to partner with Polk State College, Winter Haven High School or some other education organization to build an aviation facility, he said.

Polk State operates an Aerospace Program at the Lakeland Linder International Airport, Vacha said, and the high school has an aviation program with more than 150 students.

An educational facility would become particularly valuable as a feeder for aviation companies at the Winter Haven Airport, he said.

“All those schools will feed into those businesses,” Vacha said. “It would help the whole airport expand.”

New airport developments will add to Polk County’s aviation profile and not compete with similar businesses in Lakeland Linder and the Bartow and Lake Wales airports, he said.

“We’re going to complement one another,” he said. “As long as there’s aviation growth in Winter Haven, Bartow, Lake Wales or Lakeland, we all succeed.”

Hanson is a 66-year-old aviation company offering management, financial and marketing services to airports nationwide, Blake Swafford, its chief executive for the Southeast Region, told the City Commission on Nov. 18. Its staff includes six former airport managers, including Swafford, and one current airport manager.

The city retained Hanson under a $75,667 contract, according to city records. Clark Nikdel Powell will get $4,000 for its marketing services.

Mayor Brad Dantzler expressed enthusiasm about the agreement as a way to bring more economic development and tax revenue to the city. The airport is an underused asset for a public-private partnership, he said.

“I’ve always thought we are land-rich but cash-poor,” Dantzler said.

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