With the specter of being forced to repay more than $50,000 in engineering fees, the City of Memphis on Thursday night agreed to move forward with a nearly $500,000 renovation project at Briggs Smith Memorial Airport.
The Memphis City Council had been hesitant to earmark roughly $50,000 in city funding to the project, a required 10% match, that would have allowed the use of roughly $450,000 in federal grant funding to pay for pavement of new airplane parking areas, expansion of the existing taxiway and ultimately relocation of the airports hangars.
The council balked at initial agreements that would have required the significant local contribution, considering the airport fund had an existing fund balance of less than $20,000.
Ultimately negotiations with the state and federal grant administrators resulted in the local match being reduced to approximately five percent with the aid of Missouri Department of Transportation cost sharing.
The council continued to express concerns about expending the total available local funds for a project that ultimately was only laying the foundation work for future improvements, which the city may or not be able to afford.
Ultimately the project was only able to earn city approval when the local pilots’ association pledged $7,000 in funding to combine with the $18,000 in city funding to make the project possible.
“I guess it boils down to do we want to spend $18,000 or take a chance on having to pay back $51,000,” said Alderman Tom Glass. I understand there is no guarantee that will happen, but it going to be awfully hard to explain to people.”
Pilot Audrey Glass said the association was willing to help fund the project, but added that he was perfectly content with the current condition of the airport.
His grandson, Matthew, spoke in favor of the project, noting that while new hangars were a higher priority, this would at least pave the way for that possibility in the future.
“People like to see progress,”‘ he said. “When businesses or other communities are looking at your town, they look at the airport as an example of what you have to offer.”
Alderman Jobe Justice agreed, stating that while the price tag was high for a project that was not even going to provide new hangars, it would at least open the door for that next phase in the future.
“This way we at least have a base to work off of moving forward,” he said. “This will make it more attractive for future expansion and upgrades and could open the door if people want to build their own hangars.”
Alderman Chris Feeney noted that private funding likely would be the only option in the near future for replacing the hangars, considering the airport fund typically only generates approximately $5,000 in revenue annually after average expenses.
He cited aviation fuel sales, hangar rental fees and revenue from the adjacent land rental for farming or hay, as the lone revenue sources, highlighting the limited opportunities there to recoup higher revenue if and when maintenance costs are incurred.
“In the end we are going to spend $18,000 of our money and $7,000 of the pilots’ money and wind up with an overpriced parking lot,” he stated. “Hopefully when this is completed, we can find a more reasonable plan to replace the hangars, even if that means offering private ownership or some type of a long-term lease for the space that would allow them to be built and maintained by the pilots.”
Incoming Alderman Andrea Brassfield suggested the city consider partnering with the school system to possibly utilize the building trades program if and when new hangars are constructed at a later date.
Ultimately the council voted 3-0 to move forward with the grant project that is expected to cost roughly $400,000 for excavation work and surfacing, with an additional $75,000 in construction engineering fees on top of the $51,000 already paid to Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, Inc. for the original design engineering.