The St. Clair Area Chamber of Commerce became the first organization to reaffirm its support to the city in regards to closing the St. Clair Regional Airport.
The Chamber, which serves St. Clair and surrounding area businesses, passed a resolution during its April membership meeting on Wednesday after the board of directors earlier in the day unanimously supported the measure.
There was one “against” vote during the membership meeting, which was given by former airport tenant and longtime airport supporter Gilbert Hoffman, who is a Chamber member.
A standing-room-only audience — one of the largest the Chamber has had at a general membership meeting in at least three years — overwhelmingly approved the resolution in the Budget Lodging conference room.
Chamber board President Keith E. Domke read the resolution to the membership.
“Mayor Blum and members of the St. Clair Board of Aldermen:
“Seeing that the city of St. Clair has maintained the St. Clair Regional Airport for 50 years in the hope of achieving economic gain from its use and operation, and said airport has not produced economic gain for the community during that time and the completion of a city comprehensive plan specifically identified retail development as the greatest and best use of lands currently occupied by the airport, the 2012 St. Clair Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors and general membership at large have voted to support all efforts directed toward permanent closure of the St. Clair Regional Airport.”
The resolution is signed by Domke and by Chamber Executive Director Angela Crawford. It will be presented by them to the city’s board of aldermen during its next meeting on May 7.
The Chamber and other city-based entities originally supported the St. Clair administration’s quest to close the 80-acre facility located on the north side of town between Interstate 44 and Highway 47 when the city’s comprehensive plan was put together and approved by the aldermen in 2009.
Then Chamber Secretary Stephanie Butenhoff signed a short letter to then City Administrator Jim Arndt that stated, “We, the St. Clair Chamber of Commerce, would like to endorse the initiative to close the St. Clair Regional Airport for the good of the St. Clair community.”
It was dated July 7, 2010.
Other local entities that supported the closure two or three years ago included the St. Clair R-XIII School District, the St. Clair Fire Protection District and the St. Clair Ambulance District. Those groups again are being asked to reaffirm their support in similar fashion as the Chamber.
The city wants to close the airport to make room for proposed retail development on the site. Mayor Ron Blum and City Administrator Rick Childers have had several meetings with Missouri Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration officials regarding the closure request since the efforts to close the facility have picked up steam over the past year.
The city has been working on the airport’s closure for about five years.
During the board of aldermen’s April 16 meeting, the city passed its own resolution reaffirming its support of the airport’s closure. The Chamber’s resolution contains similar language as the city’s.
The measure was backed unanimously by the four aldermen in a roll-call vote.
“In our ongoing discussion with the Federal Aviation Administration regarding closure, one thing we’ve undertaken is to reaffirm the support of our community,” Childers told the board and others in attendance during that meeting. “And if we’re asking other organizations to reaffirm their support with this, we should be the first ones to do it.”
The second part of the resolution reads, “the board of aldermen of the city of St. Clair resolves as follows:
“We support all efforts directed toward permanent closure of St. Clair Regional Airport and direct the administration of the city to proceed with all due haste to secure release of FAA grant obligations, airport closure and sale of airport lands to private development interests.
“We further direct the administration of the city to provide, in cooperation with and at the direction of the FAA, all net proceeds from the sale of lands to the benefit of Franklin County airports.”
Childers said the city is in the process of getting a third appraisal on the airport property after it ended up being one of four main points the city was required to accomplish to satisfy FAA officials before granting closure.
The FAA approved the qualifications needed for the appraisal earlier this month, and Childers sent that information to qualified appraisers with a mid-May deadline.
Childers told The Missourian that the FAA “provided us with very specific and detailed requirements for the appraisal to help get a clear idea of the value of the land at its ‘highest and best use.’”
The city previously had two appraisals done on the property, but the FAA is mandating the third one centered on that highest and best use of the land stipulation.
“The appraisers will respond to us with their costs and time involved,” Childers said. “The mayor and I then will sit down and review them.”
Besides the appraisal, the FAA’s other three points from the March 28 meeting were the city providing a more complete explanation of what the net benefit to aviation will be by closing the airport, providing a history of the facility itself and noting why it has been lagging financially compared to other area airports, and showing why the city has not had the financial resources to fund the airport.