Economic Development, Government, and Travel & Tourism

Kent approves airport authority concept

It is just the start of what some say may be a long, involved process.

September 26, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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The Kent County Board of Commissioners has given unanimous approval to the general concept of an airport authority being established to govern Gerald R. Ford International Airport instead of the current county board-appointed Aeronautics Board of Kent County.

A couple of commissioners noted they assume the as-yet undefined airport authority, which is proposed to have representatives from other counties adjacent to Kent, would not have the authority to levy taxes on Kent County property owners.

GFIA, located in southeast Metro Grand Rapids, is the property of Kent County and would remain so, even under an airport authority, according to county officials.

Commissioner Roger Morgan, who chairs the aeronautics board, said the intent is that the proposed airport authority would not be a taxing authority.

A couple of commissioners also expressed concern that the county employees now at GFIA would get the same treatment they now get from the county government.

Commissioner Vice Chair Jim Saalfeld noted that “tweaks to the governance structure” of the proposed authority by the commissioners will come later.

The board approval last week is simply the initial approval of the general concept of an airport authority.

David Slikkers told the Business Journal after the meeting the entire process of creating an airport authority would “likely” take from six to nine months at the very least. The commission’s next step is to start working out the proposed framework of an authority. Once that happens, the Michigan Legislature must enact legislation allowing for the establishment of a regional authority governing GFIA.

Slikkers, whose manufacturing business is in Holland, is a member of the Kent County Aeronautics Board and chair of its governance committee, which was set up in 2013 to study the pros and cons of a transition to an airport authority.

Kent County Administrator/Controller Daryl Delabbio told the Business Journal in early September there will be “a lot of steps to take place before anything is finalized. I expect it to be an 18-24 month process.”

In mid-September, the county commissioners received a letter from Birgit Klohs on behalf of the Regional Air Alliance expressing full support of the LeighFisher recommendation to create an airport authority to govern GFIA.

Klohs is president and CEO of The Right Place economic development agency, which now houses the Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan. LeighFisher is the airport management consulting firm in San Francisco retained by the Aeronautics Board to study the results of a transition to an airport authority.

Slikkers said early in the summer that the biggest issue facing GFIA is “how do we position Grand Rapids as an attractive and desirable market for the airlines?” He noted the business community in West Michigan — beyond Kent County — has joined together in the Regional Air Alliance, which was successful in getting Southwest Airlines to begin operating out of GFIA last year.

Dick DeVos, president and CEO of The Windquest Group, was honored in June for his leadership of the Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan and his personal efforts in bringing to GFIA the low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines.

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