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Thursday, Dec 8, 2022
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LAWA Lets Plot Lie Fallow

One of the most coveted pieces of property at the Van Nuys Airport lies covered in weeds behind a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. The Los Angeles World Airport Board was ready to take proposals to develop the 5.8 acres on Valjean Avenue at its May 19 meeting but then removed the item from its agenda. It is not known when the airport board will begin to take proposals. As the last undeveloped piece of property at the airfield, the land is sure to be of interest to business people on and off the airport alike especially for Clay Lacy Aviation and the Airtel Plaza Hotel that have operations bordering the property, The Lacy fixed-base operation could use the additional land to expand from its constrained space that requires keeping aircraft at other sites around the airport. With over 200 employees, Lacy has the largest charter and aircraft management company at Van Nuys but is situated on the least amount of space when stacked up against the competition. The owner of the Airtel has eyed the property as well, although use of the parcel is limited to aviation uses. The land would also be of value to Maguire Aviation, a relatively new player at the airport that has been flexing its financial muscles by picking up leaseholds through acquisitions. Maguire gained its foothold at the airport with its purchase of Petersen Aviation in 2006. It then brought franchised FBO Million Air under the Maguire brand in October, followed by SkyTrails Aviation, an independent aircraft management firm. With Maguire focusing on real estate at the airport rather than airplanes it ceased the former Petersen charter operations an empty piece of land such as that on Valjean presents an attractive chance for further expansion. Whoever gets chosen as the developer must meet requirements set out by LAWA staff the land must be used for aviation purposes except for fuel sales. Allowed uses include hangar space, ramp space, tie-down space for piston aircraft, maintenance, training and air taxi service. Improvements need to be completed within three years of signing the lease. An existing FBO can acquire the property but a new fixed-base operation is prohibited because the land falls short of the 7-acre minimum required. At a lease price of $38,000 an acre per year, the airport agency stands to gain more than $200,000 annually. That the land has been vacant for so long drew criticism that the agency has been dragging its feet and losing lease money for LAWA and taxes for the city and state. “The airport could have been realizing revenue all that time,” said Bruce Ackerman, president of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley and a member of the airport’s Citizens Advisory Council. One long-time aircraft owner said that LAWA has a lackadaisical approach to development at Van Nuys and that it’s always taken years to get anything done. “It is like trying to run in molasses in winter trying to get anything through the airport,” said the owner, who requested his name not be used. The LAWA staff report did contain a paragraph encouraging developers to use the land as the site of a facility for use by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to clear passengers and baggage arriving from overseas. With a separate building for customs officers, a fee could be charged to recoup the cost of construction and maintenance. An on-demand customs officer had been available at Van Nuys until August 2006 when the agency decided to use those agents elsewhere. Charter firms based at Van Nuys must have international flights cleared at Los Angeles International Airport or another airfield. Past attempts to develop the property fell through for various reasons. In the 1980s, Retlaw Enterprises Inc., connected to the family of Walt Disney, signed a 40-year lease on the property for either an office building or to keep jet aircraft on. That lease was terminated because Retlaw had failed to obtain appropriate permits and did not have the financing required for the improvements. In 2001, the agency once again sought interested developers but rejected all submitted bids in March 2002 stating that the Van Nuys Airport master plan was still in the works and the board wanted to wait until it was finished before deciding what to do with the space.

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