News & Features

Kalispell Considering Deal to Hand Over Management of City Airport

Airport users would oversee maintenance, upkeep of facility under 20-year agreement

The city of Kalispell has drafted a tentative plan to hand over management and maintenance responsibilities of the municipal airport to an independent association of users.

The agreement would shift the burden of operating and funding the 71-acre airport property from the city to a collective of users, a template that is similar to how Kalispell allows a private association to oversee Buffalo Hill Golf Club.

The deal, in theory, could settle a deep-rooted argument over who should pay for the municipal airport on the south end of town, a debate nearly as old as the 88-year-old site.

The city council will review the agreement tonight at its July 10 work session in City Hall starting at 7 p.m.

The potential deal is emerging a year after the city considered permanently closing the airport due to longstanding frustrations over funding and mounting deferred maintenance. Dewey Swank, a local business owner who leases a hangar, approached the city council and proposed ironing out a solution on behalf of airport users. Both sides negotiated over the last year, according to Swank.

Swank told the Beacon the new agreement would allow the private association to address the airport’s deferred maintenance and “grow it to be a bit more viable.”

Through the proposed agreement, the private association would receive existing money in the city’s airport enterprise fund, which is roughly $150,000, according to Kalispell City Manager Doug Russell. The airport association would also be eligible to utilize funds in the tax-increment finance district for improvements — not maintenance — at the site, Russell said. The TIF district sunsets in 2020.

The city airport was initially located on the outskirts of town when it opened on July 3, 1929, but it’s now consumed by development on the south end of Kalispell. It’s been the subject of everything from a citywide referendum to multiple studies and master plans dating back decades.

The most recent study, a south Kalispell urban renewal plan completed by CTA Architects Engineers, laid out multiple proposed solutions for the airport: keep it operational using city funding; buy out the onsite leases and shutter all operations; request Federal Aviation Administration funding for upgrades; or incorporate an airport authority that oversees the site; or privatize it.

CTA’s report showed that the airport loses money on an annual basis. To keep the airport operational, the city would need to invest $900,000 over five years to address overdue maintenance needs and safety issues, and it would continue to operate at a loss in the future, according to CTA’s report.

Summary of Draft City Airport Management Agreement

Source: City of Kalispell

— City of Kalispell would hand over management and maintenance responsibilities of the municipal airport to an independent association through a 20-year lease agreement

— Existing hangar leases with the city would be canceled and the association would develop new leases with hangar owners

— Independent association would make improvements to the airport as outlined in the city’s master plan using a combination of the user group funding and tax-increment financing district for new infrastructure. The improvements would include repairs to the taxiway, such as widening one taxiway by roughly four feet for safety reasons, and making available space for additional hangars and business locations.

— The city would sign a 20-year agreement with options for extension

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