Page Field Transforms Its Facilities & Business Structure

Author: 
Ken Wysocky
Published in: 
November-December
2012

The retro-looking terminal at Page Field (FMY) in Fort Myers, FL, belies the airport’s otherwise modern character and non-traditional approach to business as a general aviation airport. A $32.6 million overhaul that spanned nearly two decades from planning to its recent completion transformed FMY from a deteriorating, debt-ridden facility into an updated, eco-friendly and financially stable reliever airport. Its terminal, however, is fashioned after a World War II-era structure, in tribute to the airport’s military roots.

The primary structural components of FMY’s extensive renovations, designed by Hole Montes, include: a new 22,613-square-foot terminal that opened last summer; a 24,000-square-foot corporate aircraft hangar; 600,000 square feet of new ramps; and a 60,000-gallon fuel farm.

factsfigures

Project: General Aviation
Complex Overhaul

Location:
Page Field (Fort Myers, FL)  

Operator:
Lee County Port Authority

Cost: $32.6 million

Funding: 43% FAA; 33% Florida state grants;
24% Lee County Port Authority

Timeline: 1994 – 2012

Construction: 2006 – 2011

Terminal: 22,613 sq. ft.

Hangar: 24,000 sq. ft.

Ramp/Apron: 600,000 sq. ft.

Fuel Farm: 60,000 gal.

Architect:
SchenkelShultz Architecture

Engineer/Project Manager:
Hole Montes

General Contractor:
Owen-Ames-Kimball Co.

2011 Operations: 78,000

2012 Operations:
Up 8.4% year-to-date vs. 2011

Annual Fuel Sales:
Approx. 1.2 million gal.

Of Note: Port Authority increased revenues by assuming traditional FBO responsibilities & renting airport land; terminal design earned LEED certification and pays homage to the airport’s World War II heritage

Lee County Port Authority, which operates both Page Field and nearby Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), funded the projects largely with federal, state and local matching grants. It also relied on a low-interest $12.5 million revolving loan for cash flow and grant matching. Unique revenue-enhancing strategies — including a shopping center built on airport land that yields significant rent income — also figured prominently in the funding, says Port Authority Executive Director Robert M. Ball, A.A.E.

In addition, the Port Authority took a novel approach to operations by assuming responsibility for services previously provided by two fixed-based operators (FBOs). Unhappy with the FBOs’ reluctance to invest in capital improvements after RSW opened, the Port Authority acquired the remaining term of one FBO lease and did not renew the other when it expired. The change not only ensures future investment in the facilities, it also allows the Port Authority to earn revenue from hangar rentals, fuel sales, etc.

The main impetus for the change in approach was a proposed extension of a major city thoroughfare that would have cut through one of the airport’s two runways. The roadway extension would have effectively doomed FMY and forced officials to invest in new facilities at RSW.

Around the same time, the Port Authority was negotiating new contracts with airlines at RSW. At that point, the airlines were unhappy with the authority’s “single-cash-register system,” under which they effectively subsidized about $300,000 in annual operating losses at FMY, Ball explains.

In this confluence of events, Ball saw an opportunity for a renaissance at FMY that would create a second cash register.

“The airlines were pleased to adopt a two-cash register system … which would allow us to cover all our costs and any losses through our own net revenues,” he relates. “The airlines did not want to subsidize any losses at Page Field.”

Basic Training

Much of FMY’s institutional identity relates to its history during World War II, when Lee County leased the airport to the federal government as a training base for bomber and fighter pilots. (Cpt. Channing Page, the airport’s namesake, was a local World War I hero and the first Floridian to join the United States Army Air Corps.)

After World War II, FMY became the county’s commercial airport, a role it relinquished in May 1983 when RSW opened. During the next decade, the airport’s facilities declined as capital improvements languished. By the time Ball took over in 1993, his primary assignment was clear: Transform the airport into an economically viable facility.

“Quite honestly, it was in deplorable condition,” Ball recalls. “There’d been no capital improvements since the new airport opened. Buildings were falling down, runways were deteriorating and the passenger terminal was filled with junk. Hangars were rusting and falling apart, and pilots who used the facilities were very unhappy with the conditions.

“Our goals were to develop a viable general aviation airport and a good environment for pilots, and create a positive economic impact on the local economy.”

After convincing local officials to divert the proposed roadway around the affected runway rather than through it, work began to demolish FMY’s old buildings and repair its suffering runways. The novel FBO structure and the development of Page Field Commons, a 45-acre shopping center on airport land, served as the Port Authority’s financial linchpins. Under a 40-year lease agreement, the center’s developer pays $720,000 per year in ground rental fees; when the lease expires, the airport will own the shopping center.

At a time when many airports are considering privatization, FMY moved further away from that direction. “We’re more like a property manager,” Ball clarifies. “We wanted those fuel sales and hangar rental revenues … as well as a means of generating non-aeronautic revenue. That way, when we got into a profitable situation, we could take that revenue and apply it toward matching state and federal grants for even more capital improvements and rehabilitation.”

To help attract customers and ensure the availability of pertinent amenities, the Port Authority entered into ground leases with Switlik Aviation Maintenance, Tomlinson Avionics of Florida, Paragon Flight Training and two air-taxi charter operations, ACI and Charter Manager.

The companies’ hangar and ground rental fees help the airport maximize revenue while offering customers a full slate of aviation services. Their arrival also created more jobs, Ball adds.

To generate yet another revenue stream, the Port Authority gutted the old terminal on the north side of the airport and turned it into office space, which it rents primarily to state agencies. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which built a forensics laboratory there, is its main tenant. The leases generate about $600,000 of revenue annually, Ball reports.

Showcase for History

The centerpiece of the airport’s revival is a $16.3 million terminal, designed by SchenkelShultz Architecture. Its styling was inspired by the Quonset hut popularized by the U.S. military in the 1940s, and mimics the appearance of a very early Miami municipal airport, says Gary Krueger, a principal architect at SchenkelShultz.

“It just so happened that the actual program of the building lent itself to a similar design,” Krueger says.

“It features a central two-story lobby space and a wing on each side: one that houses the apron/ramp support staff, aircraft services and administrative staff and one for a pilot lounge, an area for community seminars and space leased by vendors. The building laid out pretty cleanly into these areas that serve the airport and the community.”

For Ball, communicating the heritage of FMY’s military roots was as important as offering first-class amenities and services. This was achieved by hanging a full-scale replica of a P-51 Mustang from the atrium ceiling and putting up large historic photos supplied by the Southwest Florida Museum of History. (Pilots training at FMY in the 1940s flew P-51 Mustangs.)  In addition, a fully restored AT-6 military training aircraft is displayed outside the terminal.

The terminal gift shop looks like the inside of a hangar, and display cases on a second-floor balcony showcase FMY memorabilia, giving the terminal a “museum feel,” Krueger says. “People actually come through the building just to experience it.”

The ultimate compliment to the décor, however, comes from former soldiers. “Veterans come to see the terminal and tears well up in their eyes,” relates Ball.

The terminal’s placement on the previously vacant west quadrant of the airport maximizes accessibility for passengers, residents and tourists drawn to nearby Sanibel and Captiva Islands, notes Luc Carriere, vice president and director of aviation engineering for Hole Montes.

“The apron was designed to allow users premium access to the new terminal,” Carriere explains. “We designed the terminal so it could be constructed in phases to accommodate the federal funding, which was available in a multi-year program.”

Going Green

The terminal received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, based on its energy-efficient design. The airport’s stormwater management system, for instance, includes a series of dry detention areas — located between runways, taxiways and apron areas — that retain and filter water from heavy rains.

To maximize energy efficiency, the terminal obtains about one-third of its electricity from 786 photovoltaic solar panels mounted atop the new corporate hangar. The panels generate an average of 847 kilowatts a day — enough to power about 100 average households. The panels save the airport more than $23,000 in energy costs per year, Ball reports.

“Solar panels are just getting to the point where they make a little more sense in terms of payback,” Carriere explains. “The idea of using a rooftop area within the airport, which is very condensed, is innovative.”

Designers, however, had to ensure that the structure still met wind codes for hurricane protection, despite the additional load of the solar panels.

Other energy-conservation features include automated lights that turn off and computers that “sleep” when employees leave their offices. The building also utilizes high-efficiency light bulbs.

Overall, Ball believes that the improvements made during the last 18 years have positioned FMY for future growth. The airport currently handles about 78,000 operations a year and is designed to accommodate to 210,000 annually — significantly more than the 110,000 operations it handled in 1983 when RSW opened.

In addition, he notes, the airport now supports about 1,000 jobs, generates a $94.6 million impact on the local economy, operates in the black and uses net surpluses to help secure more grants for continued capital improvements.

Subcategory: 
General Aviation

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