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City airport closure proposed

Gary E. Salazar

— A former city council president is pushing the city to consider closing the Steamboat Springs Airport and using the property for other purposes such as affordable housing, an events center and industrial development.

William Martin, who served on the city council between 1991 and 1995, is urging city officials to take a careful look at the airport at a time when there is a proposal to expand it.

“The time is now to discuss this,” Martin said Thursday afternoon. “We have to discuss this now before the airport is expanded again. If the airport is expanded one more time, this discussion is over.

“There needs to be community-wide discussion about how the land can best be used to serve the most people. The answer may come back that the current use is the best use.”

On Thursday morning, Martin pitched closing the airport to the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association Inc.

He suggested using the property to develop affordable housing, a car racetrack and an industrial park. He said the terminal could be converted into an event center.

The Chamber did not go for Martin’s plan.

“We have no interest in supporting the closing of the Steamboat Springs Airport,” said Sandy Evans Hall, executive director for the chamber.

Martin plans to pitch the City Council at its meeting Tuesday.

While the chamber rejected Martin’s idea Thursday, the chamber’s Economic Development Council is conducting a cost benefit analysis of both the Steamboat Springs Airport and the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

Rob Dick, the director of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, is the chairman of the economic committee studying the airports.

Steamboat Springs Airport Manager Matt Grow said he is concerned the objective of the study is to justify the local airport’s closure.

“It is discouraging,” he said. “This issue always comes up, and we have to fight for the airport.”

On Thursday, Dick denied having any intention of using the analysis to close the airport.

“We are looking at both airports to see how they work and operate,” Dick said. “This is a fact-finding study that is looking at how the county and city subsidize the airports. Nobody seems to have a real handle on this.”

Martin said the airport has not been financially viable for the city for some time. In 1992, Martin staunchly opposed the City Council’s decision to build a new terminal at the airport, a $5 million project the city is still paying for even though there are no commercial flights at the airport.

The terminal was expanded on the notion Denver International Airport would be a major hub for Continental Airlines, which was operating out of the airport at the time.

But Continental was not able to negotiate a deal with DIA, and pulled out of Steamboat Springs.

“This airport has been an albatross around the city’s neck,” Martin said. “It will cost the city $5 million and give no return.”

According to City Council President Kevin Bennett, the airport is losing between $160,000 and $180,000 a year.

Martin is looking for the city to reexamine the airport and at least discuss other potential uses for the 70-acre property, which he said is ideal for affordable housing.

“You have water, sewer and electricity already there,” he said. “This is not premium land. This is affordable land. The issue of affordable housing here has been spinning its wheels the past decade. I see this as a potential opportunity that could be explored.”

But Dick said he is not interested in affordable housing at the airport.

“Whether it would be appropriate or not has yet to be determined and is not even on the table,” Dick said.

The second suggestion Martin made is building a racetrack out at the airport to bring back the vintage car races that occurred over the Labor Day weekend. For 15 years, vintage races were held on Mount Werner Circle. Because of development, the races stopped in 1998.

“We need special events,” Martin said. “If the races were held at the airport, it would not have an effect in town. There would be no congestion, but those people would be here spending money.”

Martin also said the terminal could be used for concerts and other special events.

But Grow cringed at Martin’s suggestions.

“I’m against it,” he said. “(Martin is) going in the wrong direction. To close an airport and turn it into a race track is absurd.”

Grow argued the airport is making progress in turning its financial position around.

The airport serves 30 private companies and its largest user is Mountain Flight Services, which is an air ambulance.

“Jet fuel is up 23 percent,” Grow said. “We are getting busier and busier. The hangar development will put the airport as self efficient.”

Michael Dunn, who lives in Denver, is proposing to building 11 hangars for corporate jets and additional hangars for smaller single-engine aircraft. The proposal has been approved by the city’s planning commission and is scheduled to be taken up by the City Council in November.

“We are working so hard to make it a profitable airport, and I think we can,” Grow said. “This has opened up the eyes of the aviation community.

“It’s upsetting that I feel I have to justify the airport.”

Martin said the city should put all of its focus on the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

“We would not be having this discussion if we didn’t have a redundancy here,” Martin said. “The airport here is benefiting relatively few people and costs a lot of money. We have an airport 20 miles from here. We need to strengthen the airport in Hayden because that is the future for Northwest Colorado.”

Martin understands there will be opposition, but he does not want to see the city make the same mistake it did in 1992.

“We can’t look at the airport with the same eyes we had 10 years ago,” he said. “All we are asking is questions, which will generate more questions. We would like the community to have an objective, fact-finding discussion on how this land can best be used to serve the public.”


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