Airport mapping out future

Airport mapping out future

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BLOOMINGTON - Bloomington's next big commercial expansion may be on airport land - or not.

The Central Illinois Regional Airport is crafting a new, long-range master plan - the first in 20 years - and a big topic will be what to do with the 50-plus acres of land surrounding the airport.

CIRA has received several proposals, but a developer's plans can butt heads with airport plans, said Paul Harmon, chairman of the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority.

"The airport has been very reluctant to seek out many of those until we have a current plan in place," Harmon said. "We are not marketing any land currently. The master plan will show us the best use of all of the airport property."

Last year, the airport sold 2.4 acres along Illinois 9 to Commerce Bank for $1.25 million. The airport leases land to cargo carriers FedEx and DHL. At one point, the airport marketed around 50 acres of land for sale or lease, and more may have been available, said Fran Strebing, CIRA marketing director.

Land development has been brought up in the past as a high priority of the airport authority, the McLean County Chamber of Commerce and the McLean County Board because it can generate revenue for both the airport and the community.

But there's a fine line between land that can be developed and land that needs to be saved for potential expansion of the airport, said Carl Olson, CIRA executive director. A new master plan will draw that line.

"The airport needs to protect itself from encroachment, from development. Our first job is to protect ourselves. It's important that we protect the airspace around the airport," Olson said. "The easiest example is we can't afford to have somebody construct a cellular antenna or cellular tower off the approach end of the runway."

The new master plan will also forecast passenger levels to gauge the potential need for terminal or runway expansion to accommodate more carriers and more flights, CIRA's highest priority, Olson said. He is reluctant to discuss specific destinations, although the airport is trying to gain westbound flights.

In addition, Olson wants to know whether private carriers and Twin City corporations will need more space.

State Farm Insurance Cos., for example, flies from CIRA often. Image Air has a private jet hangar on site and also conducts pilot instruction. And Platinum Aviation is building CIRA's second private-jet hangar. While Platinum's plans are caught up in a lawsuit, Olson said the company will be operating at the airport once the legal smoke clears.

These companies need space, too, Olson said.

"Is there going to be an increase in corporate aircraft activity that we need to make sure we have the facilities for? Is there going to be a dramatic increase in general aviation activity?" he asked. "We need to prepare for that. The master plan will address all of these things."

While it hasn't crafted a master plan in 20 years, CIRA seems to follow them closely. In 1986, for example, airport officials created a plan that included the new terminal, built 15 years later.

The new plan should be completed late this year or early 2007, Olson said.

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