Airport hangar still on drawing board

A year and a half after the Louisa County Industrial Development Authority unveiled plans to build a corporate hangar to attract new business, the project remains in limbo.

The IDA has spent some $250,000 on site design for the 10,000-square-foot hangar, but it’s unclear when the hangar will be built and whether the state will help pay for it.

The state has a grant program that could pay up to 80 percent of the cost to prepare the hangar site for construction. But state officials are frustrated that the authority waited until after it spent so much money on the design to ask them to pitch in. Moreover, the authority’s design calls for putting the hangar in the very spot the state wants a new terminal building.

“We were accused of not having a sound plan on what we were doing,” said Ed Jarvis, the IDA’s director.

He said the rationale for building the corporate hangar is that it’s projected to make money for the airport in the form of rental income. That’s attractive to the IDA, which is trying to show the Louisa County Board of Supervisors its annual subsidy for the airport can reap benefits. The board gave $123,000 to the IDA to pay for airport operations in fiscal year 2020.

Andy Wade, the county’s economic development director, said he has identified several potential tenants who would pay to park their aircraft in the hangar. By contrast, the proposed terminal building would not necessarily lead to new income.

The state raised Louisa’s airport to regional status in 2016, putting it on par with Culpeper’s and on a higher level than the airfield in Orange. But Louisa’s runway is 4,300 feet long, 700 feet shorter than Culpeper’s, which limits its usefulness to businesses that might fly in and out and store their planes there. The state sees a bigger terminal and longer runway as long-term goals for Louisa.

A recent invitation for bids to prepare the site for the corporate hangar resulted in a low bid of $1.4 million, Jarvis said. That was almost $500,000 more than the IDA thought it would cost.

“[At that price] you can’t put enough airplanes in there to break even,” he said.

That’s when the IDA decided to ask the state to pay for the site work, which is the biggest part of the cost.  

Louisa also made plans in 2018 to build up to 20 smaller hangars on the airport’s western side to replace some of the existing ones, which are aging. But those plans went awry when officials realized there was loose dirt on the proposed site that was dumped there when Sheetz was built in the town of Louisa a few years ago. Plus, the hangars would be located too close to an existing gas pipeline.

With dirt removal included in the price, the cost of the new hangars ballooned from an initial estimate of $650,000 to nearly $2 million, far more than the IDA had intended to pay. At the IDA’s December meeting, Jarvis and authority member Sam Hughes blamed their engineers, Talbert & Bright Inc., for not identifying the dirt issue earlier.

“We decided to put that project on pause and maybe re-orient the hangars and put eight to 10 hangars there,” Jarvis said.

Cliff Burnette, director of the state Department of Aviation’s services division, said he can’t guarantee at this point the state will help compensate the IDA for the money it’s already spent on the corporate hangar. He said his agency would like to see the terminal built, preferably on the hangar site because it’s a more central location along the runway. Jarvis said state officials have also told him the terminal will be cheaper to build there than in another location.

“It’s their airport … If they want to build the hangar there, that’s their business,” Burnette said. “We’re not going to lean on them to build something,” he said.

“If they want to play ball with us and pay for the hangar site work, we’ll build a terminal and put the hangar wherever they want us to,” said Stuart Reynolds, the IDA’s chairman.

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