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Delay on Prop Park Causes a Stir With Airport Council

When Steve Argubright stood before the Van Nuys Airport Citizens Advisory Council in November to give a presentation on the $30 million piston aircraft park he proposes to build, he was optimistic about the project moving forward and getting swift approval of a lease with Los Angeles World Airports. When the council met this month, there was Argubright again except now his optimism had turned to frustration and disappointment. Here it was January and he was no closer to signing a lease than he had been two months prior and even publicly doubted if LAWA wanted to see the prop park even built. The airport agency took it on the chin and a lot of other body parts in the discussion that followed between Argubright and the council members, leading Chairman Rick Flam to put the issue on the agenda for the February meeting so that representatives from LAWA’s commercial real estate division could be present. In the meantime, Argubright just waits, having already sunk $3.2 million into The Park at Van Nuys and ready to spend millions more with local businesses to complete it. “Today everything is on deck,” Argubright told the council on Jan. 4. “LAWA doesn’t have to do anything but sign the documents they said they would sign.” The 30-acre site set aside for piston aircraft has been long in the making. The area had once been used by the Air National Guard and the buildings there demolished to make way for a terminal building and hangar space to accommodate 265 propeller aircraft. As proposed by Argubright and his partners in Pacific Aviation Developers, the terminal will include a restaurant, executive offices, a conference room and an observation patio. Pacific has developed 900,000 square feet of buildings at general aviation airports in California and Arizona. What was said at the advisory council meeting was only part of the story. Left unsaid was the change in financial backing for the project and that has been the hold up as far as LAWA is concerned. The new moneymen asked for changes in the lease and that is still being worked out, said Debbie Bowers, deputy executive director, commercial development for LAWA. “We said this will take time to digest and there was no timetable,” Bowers said. The agency is also still completing meeting requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. In Argubright’s view, there wouldn’t have been a change in the financing had the project moved along quicker. The first financing group left in July because it couldn’t wait anymore, he said. “We have been able to find two lenders in this economy,” Argubright said. “If this (second) guy leaves it is not because they don’t like the project; they cannot hold the money forever.” LAWA likes the new financing team and while it is plausible they have the money, it is just a matter of working out the language in the lease, Bowers said. As for The Park at Van Nuys, both Bowers and LAWA spokesman Mike Molina are supportive of Argubright’s plans. “I really like the project and it is going to be a great asset to Van Nuys Airport,” Bowers said. Closing Down Ken Miller, who serves on the citizen’s advisory council, had been planning on having his business, Van Nuys Flight Center, be an anchor tenant at the new prop park but now he has other plans. As of the end of the month the flight center, which offered flight training, aircraft repairs and maintenance, and aircraft rentals and sales, will close. The maintenance portion of the business will be taken over by Mather Aviation, also located at Van Nuys, while the other assets are expected to be sold off, Miller said. “My service manager and some of the other employees will be transitioning (to Mather),” Miller said. “A qualified Cessna service center will remain here at Van Nuys.” New Tower Proposed Representatives from Van Nuys Airport and the Federal Aviation Administration are meeting to discuss a new control tower for the Valley airfield. The current tower was built in 1968 and puts the controllers about six stories above the runway. Still, with the changes in buildings and other features at the airport over the past 40 years a new tower would help in improving visibility of flight operations. Siting the new tower will have to balance safety considerations and the objectives of the controllers with the best use of available land. A likely location will be mid-field and as close to the runway as possible. The controllers themselves got the ball rolling by contacting Rep. Brad Sherman’s office to tell of the cramped conditions of the tower. Sherman’s office went to the FAA to see about getting a condition assessment on the tower to find out its general condition. The FAA has made improvements to the structure, particularly following the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The airport is putting together three to four options for the FAA that are under review by the commercial development division of Los Angeles World Airports, said Kim Ellis, the assistant manager at Van Nuys. A briefing will take place in January on the new tower, with a decision being made by May on the location. Afterward will come the process to fund the tower. While the project is being aggressively pursued, getting the money into the FAA budget likely will not happen right away, Ellis said. “This is not something we are going to have next year,” Ellis said. “This is a several years’ process.” Financing Bill With new congressmen and senators in place in Washington, D.C. perhaps they can accomplish what past lawmakers could not, namely the passage of a new Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill. The law funding the nation’s air traffic control system expired in September 2007 and has been kept on life support since by a series of extensions. The law allows for the collection of fuel, ticket and departure taxes from both commercial and general aviation operations into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund for the FAA and the air traffic control system. In 2010, both the House and Senate passed respective versions of the bill but were unable to reconcile them during the regular session or the lame duck session in December. Staff Reporter Mark Madler can be reached at (818) 316-3126 or by e-mail at mmadler@sfvbj.com

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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