Airport grows with Douglas County |

Airport grows with Douglas County

John Seelmeyer

Although it’s a general aviation airport outside a small town, the Minden- Tahoe Airport is anything but a dusty landing strip.

And as the economy of Douglas County continues to pop, airport officials say they expect the facility to play an increasingly important role in the area’s economy.

In the next couple of years, county officials plan to get a good handle on the economics of the airport and fine-tune their plans.

Even now, some 80,000 square feet of buildings are either under construction or being designed for construction at the airport just north of Minden, said Airport Manager Jim Braswell.

Another major development about 1 million square feet of hangar and industrial space is planned by Empire Capital LLC on 87 acres at the airport.

Completion of that project is expected to take 15 years.

Another 58-acre development with 500,000 square feet of hangar space is under study on airport land as well as a 170,000-square-foot jet center on 11 acres.

Industrial buildings have sprouted along the roads leading to the airport, and visiting corporate jets commonly are parked on the apron outside the airport’s modest facilities.

Those corporate jets, Braswell said, appear to be one of the strongest waves of the future at Minden-Tahoe Airport.

In the wake of the Sept.

11 tragedies, large corporations increasingly turned to private jets to get executives to store and factory sites around the nation.

As large national corporations increasingly have a presence in the Carson Valley, that jet traffic heads for Minden- Tahoe Airport.

But not all of it.

An initiative approved by Douglas County voters in 1994 places weight limits on aircraft that can use the airport the noise of larger aircraft was a concern and larger corporate craft exceed those limits, especially when they’re loaded with fuel at takeoff.

At the same time, however, the rules allow for use of the airport by superheavy firefighting tankers.

The airport is one of two in the state the other is Battle Mountain that hosts a squadron of firefighting planes.

While officials can see the growing economic importance of the airport outside their windows, they’re counting on a university study to put some numbers behind their observations.

The most recent estimate places the impact of the airport at $45.8 million a year.

Better numbers will come as Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Reno, is set to begin a study of the economic impact of all the rural airports in the state.

That study, which is funded by the state department of transportation, is expected to last about a year, said researcher Dick Bartholet.

Results of the economic study, in turn, will allow airport officials to begin longterm planning for the airport’s future.

Braswell said it’s unlikely the airport ever will see scheduled passenger service.

But he said a key question will be the aircargo needs of Douglas County businesses.

Implementing those plans will require adroit juggling of federal grants and money the airport is able to generate on its own.

Although the facility is countyowned, the same 1994 ordinance that placed weight limits on aircraft also prohibits the county from spending general fund money at the airport.

The airport recently won a $1.6 million federal grant to overlay its main, 7,400-foot runway and reconstruct a taxiway.

And officials just used another $1.7 million in federal money to buy 42 acres of buffer zone around the north end of the airport.

Land development on the airport, meanwhile, pays a $400,000 share of the facility’s $880,000 in annual revenue.

Approximately $250,000 more comes from hangar rentals.