A little over a year ago the Flagler County Commission approved a $250,000 buy of a 15-acre parcel adjoining the county airport to accommodate part of the long-planned, long-awaited general aviation terminal Airport Director Roy Sieger has been talking up for several years. The terminal is to be a 15,000 square foot building, hardened for weather emergencies, with office and some commercial space.
It was expected to be done “within the next three years,” Sieger said reporters more than three years ago, when he was touting the airport’s new, $17 million runway to local officials. At the time he put the cost of the terminal at around $4.5 million, with design costs, 80 percent of it to be paid with transportation grant, the other 20 percent to be paid by the airport’s own fund. As with most construction costs, the price has risen to $6.5 million, making the county’s share $1.3 million.
The terminal’s design began last year and was completed. The building was to be built this year, adding to what has been the county’s most successful–the county’s only successful–economic development engine, as Flagler Executive Airport has been on Sieger’s watch. The terminal was almost ready to be put out to bid. As for the $1.3 million, “the airport could secure a grant–or borrow the money, Sieger said. “We can afford and go out and get a loan for that, that’d be really operating really close to that line where I’m spending almost everything I’m making,” Sieger told county commissioners on Monday. “I don’t want to do that.”
And the airport is in a relative financial crunch. “The airport was not immune to Covid,” he said. “Just like any other business in Flagler County, we did have some losses of revenue last year, and we still made money, we didn’t lose everything.” But business tenants at the airport had trouble making payments. “We have a lot of business tenants at the airport. Some of those weren’t able to make payments on their leases and we did some lease forgiveness as well to help out the businesses. So we did have some, I would say, lower revenues in 2020.” That changed the calculus on building the terminal this year.
On Monday, Sieger asked the commission for permission to delay the project a year. Instead, he wants the commission to approve a $560,000 bill to pay for new t-hangars.
“As much as it kills me, as you all know how long I’ve been waiting to build this brand new GA terminal,” he said, building t-hangars now would be more financially feasible, given the airport’s other crunch: tenants are waiting in line to get into those hangars. “T-hangars are moneymakers, okay. T-hangars are big moneymakers right now. The airport has 56 such hangars. Sieger wants to build 42 more in three rows. “We have 56 hangers at the airport. This design right here is to build 42 More t-hangers.”
The Florida Department of Transportation, which is funding most of the terminal, agreed to let Sieger change projects mid-stream. “So the good news is if we build these t-hangars here, that’s 42 units,” Sieger said, making his case to commissioners, “six of those will be six large units on the corners and 36 other regular t-hangars. That’s going to be an extra $212,400 here annually. That’s a lot of money.”
The transportation department would pay the $117,000 design costs, but the airport would have to pay the full $560,000 cost of the hangars. “If I paid that straight, it would basically be paid off in two and a half years,” Sieger projected. “I’m not going to wait and use all that money that we make from the revenue for the t-hangars to pay those. I’m going to use that money to help with our loan that we need for the general aviation terminal facility. So I would like your all’s permission, because everybody right now thinks I’m on the track to go out to bid to build a new terminal building. What am I asking you is to put a stop on that for one year and move forward with building t-hangars.”
The airport is owned and operated by the county, but its finances are a separate “enterprise fund.” it is designed to operate like a business, without encroaching on taxpayer dollars. “everything we do at the airport is from our fuel sales to our land leases, our t-hangar leases, we we make our own money,” Sieger said. The financing of the hangars would similarly be drawn from airport funds, though commissioners still must approve since it’s a county operation.
Sieger is promising that the hangars will not be wanting for tenants. “We have been at 100 percent at the airport for many many years,” he said. “We have 90 people, probably more now waiting on our list to get a t-hangar, and if you are lucky enough to get a t-hangar you’ve been on that waiting list for two, two and a half years.” Sieger was adamant: “We will we will fill up these T hangars before they’re built, guaranteed.”
Commissioner Dave Sullivan raised the matter of the land buy a year ago, and was concerned about other incidental phases of the project, but was not opposed. Commissioner Hansen likewise was “disappointed” by the delay but understood it. Sieger said the plan is to go out to bid for the terminal a year from now.
Sieger got his permission.
Left unspoken was the rising cost of the terminal, and with it the rising cost of the county’s share, now that it will be pushed back 12 to 13 months.