Former casino exec Follmer new airport GM

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2008

Curt Follmer, former senior vice president and general manager of Rainbow Casino, has been hired as the new general manager of the Vicksburg Municipal Airport and will begin work on Monday, Mayor Laurence Leyens confirmed Thursday.

Follmer will be paid $60,000 annually to head the airport and Leyens’ plan to invest millions in revitalizing the property on U.S. 61 South, creating an industrial and commercial center.

Follmer, 52, has spent the better part of his career overseeing casinos, most recently at Rainbow Casino and Hotel for 14 years before his retirement in May.

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“I was not looking for a job. The city called me and began talking about this possibility, and I am really fascinated with it,” said Follmer, a pilot and aviation enthusiast. “The reason they hired me was not because of my aviation interests — which will help — but for my business management experience in a very highly regulated environment.”

Follmer was also a former appointee and chairman of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. He resigned from that post a few years ago, indicating the mayor was trying to be overly involved with the independent city-county agency. The airport is now a city department.

Leyens said city officials had not previously discussed the hiring of Follmer publicly because of ongoing negotiations, and added the board will formally approve his hiring at its regular meeting Wednesday. Follmer was one of four people who interviewed for the position, the mayor said.

Meanwhile, members of the Vicksburg Municipal Airport Board expressed frustration at their monthly meeting Thursday morning, citing a lack of communication between the board and the city officials since the board was stripped of its regulatory powers and put in an advisory position. It has not been presented with a final plan for the ongoing renovations on the terminal, said board chairman Kimble Slaton, and members first heard about the hiring of a general manager from someone who rents hangar space at the airport.

“We don’t know what’s going on,” Slaton said. “We are supposed to be an advisory board, but we have not been asked for our input on anything. The mayor is going to do what the mayor is going to do. If we’re going to be a functional board he needs to have some accountability to us in the same way we are accountable to him.”  

Slaton said if communication is not better in the future, the advisory board should consider changing to bimonthly or quarterly meetings. He and airport board member Donald Cross met with Leyens Thursday afternoon and Leyens apologized and said he would make sure the board is better apprised of the developments at the airport in the future.

It is not clear how the hiring of Follmer will affect Frank May, the current general manager who has held the formerly contracted position since 1994. Leyens said May’s contract will be renegotiated after May and Follmer can meet and discuss future airport operations. May, who has worked at the airport in some capacity for 31 years, said he is hopeful he will retain a position at the airport.

“I have never considered myself a bona fide airport manager. I’m more of an operations manager,” said May, who is the only employee at the airport during operational hours. “With me being a one-man show here, I’ve never had the ability to leave and attend meetings or do some of the things Curt will likely be doing.”

May’s contract with the city to manage the airport is for about $36,000 annually, said Slayton, and he also owns two fuel trucks the city leases as well as other equipment at the airport.

Along with Slaton and Cross, Don Brown and Jay Kilroy were at the advisory board meeting Thursday. In addition to discussing its communication with the city for nearly an hour, the board voted to lower the fuel prices at the airport. Effective Thursday, jet fuel was lowered from $5.30 per gallon to $3.95, and aviation fuel from $5.10 to $3.95.

Built in 1950, the airport served commercial traffic until the jet age began in the 1960s. Later it served business traffic and hobbyists. In 1983, Vicksburg joined with Warren County, Madison Parish and Tallulah to accept a $6 million grant for a new facility, Vicksburg Tallulah Regional, that opened in Mound in 1993. Fractious competition and maneuvering followed, with users actually operating the city airport for four years during litigation following a city vote to close the facility.

Although that litigation ended with a city win, the decision to invest in keeping it functioning was augmented by a $650,000 state grant for runway improvements and the selection of a management board. Earlier this year, Leyens began talking about a more aggressive development plan and a consulting firm was hired. Also under way are $1.3 million worth of renovations to the terminal building and construction of a new fire department to serve both the airport property and the municipal area nearby.


Contact Steve Sanoski at