Airport Gets Friends But Spates Irked

Published 3:40 pm Tuesday, April 29, 2014

FARMVILLE — Friends of the Farmville Airport (FOFA) is taking off to help promote the development of the Farmville Regional Airport.

In a press release, FOFA spokesperson, James Wills, explains “Our goal isn’t just about the airport itself, but how to help develop the airport so that it becomes a more important element in the economic growth of our area.”

Wills, a local pilot appointed by Farmville Mayor Sydnor C. Newman, Jr. to serve on a committee focused on replacing the municipal hangar, said FOFA had adopted the following statement of purpose: To promote the economic growth of the Farmville area and the surrounding counties through development of the Farmville Regional Airport.

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FOFA was formed, Wills relates, by a group of Farmville area professionals and businessmen who realized that they could be more effective as a group.

“And when we look at ourselves we realized that we include someone from not only Farmville, but someone from all of the surrounding counties—Amelia, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland and Prince Edward. It just happened that way,” he notes, “but it does illustrate that there is widespread interest in the future of the airport as an engine for economic growth.”

Wills describes FOFA as still in the developmental stage and seeking assistance from several national and state organizations that can share their experience in promoting economic development at other airports across the state and nation.

“We’re not interested,” Wills said, “in re-inventing the wheel.”

And he added, “The greater Farmville area and its airport aren’t unique; there are similar airports scattered across Virginia, and the entire US for that matter, that are just sitting there, not growing, and not living up to their potential for helping economic growth. We want to see the Farmville airport become the same kind of magnet for economic development that other airports are, like the airports are at Dinwiddie, Chesterfield, Danville and Bristol.”

Any implication that Farmville’s airport isn’t living up to its potential doesn’t sit well with Town Manager Gerald Spates.

“I think town council is the ‘friends of the airport.’ We’ve supported the airport all these years,” he said when told Friends of the Farmville Airport had formed.

Spates, who was unaware of FOFA’s existence until then, was read the contents of the group’s press release by The Herald so he could respond and said, “I disagree with them 100 percent. So that’s my comment. Because I think our airport is a nice municipal airport and I think we’ve done everything we can to promote the airport and I think this…I don’t know.

“It just really bothers me that they have taken this attitude with the airport, more or less insinuating that town council and the Town have not done their job with the airport and I think we have,” Spates continued. “And I think if you talk to the state of Virginia you’ll find out that our airport lives up to its potential.”

Mayor Newman, an avid pilot for whom the airport’s field is named, also said he was unfamiliar with FOFA and, as such, preferred not to comment when contacted Monday.

Demolition of the municipal hanger, meanwhile, has already started, Spates told The Herald. A group of local pilots had advocated renovating the hangar, but Town officials disagreed, saying the hangar had been condemned and was a liability.

During town council’s March meeting, Spates defended the Town’s support of the airport, detailing a proposed $13.2 million six-year plan. Were all facets of the plan funded by the state and federal governments, the Town’s share would be approximately two percent, or roughly $260,000.

Among the highlights of the six-year plan are:

2014—acquire land for runway extension, $400,00.

2015—Install runway, $300,000.

2016—Construct apron and relocate access road, $1.25 million; relocate maintenance building, $175,000; and relocate parking lot, $400,000.

2017—Construct apron and taxiway, $3 million; extend runway 3-21, $500,000.

2018—Construct T-Hangars, $100,000 and extend runway 3-21, $4 million.

2019—Construct T-Hangar, 10 units, $250,000; construct T-Hangar Taxiway, $400,000; extend runway 3-21 $2.25 million.

The Town, however, expects the wish list to be trimmed by Washington, D.C. and Richmond appropriators.

“Not all of those projects will be done. More than likely,” Spates told The Herald this month, “we’d be lucky if 50 percent of them are funded by the federal and state (agencies). They’ve got to come up with their percent, so when you get ready to do the project you put in the final application and you go from there. Not everything’s going to get funded.”