Terminal troubles|Renovations holding airport in tight spot

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 12, 2009

In the prefab home that’s been serving as the Vicksburg Municipal Airport terminal for the past year, space is at a premium.

The pilots lounge, complete with a pair of leather recliners and a large, flat-screen TV, is squeezed into the lone bedroom. Frank May manages day-to-day operations and makes fuel sales from a desk in the living room, and stacks of papers are on top of kitchen cabinets and the electric stove — burners removed.

“People always ask me, ‘What happened to the burners?,’ and I have to explain to them that I put them in the oven so my paperwork doesn’t get burned up accidentally,” said May. “Most people don’t come here often eno

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Scroll down for an airport timeline

ugh to realize we’ve been going through this for more than a year now.”

When the City of Vicksburg took over full control of airport operations at the outset of last October, then Mayor Laurence Leyens immediately approved a renovation of the airport’s nearly 60-year-old terminal building. When former casino executive Curt Follmer was brought on in December as airport manager, he said Leyens told him the renovation would be completed in a few months. 

“I would say it’s a little embarrassing,” Follmer said while standing inside the terminal, which remains in a gutted state. “The main thing is we don’t have a crew here full time. Typically there’s two guys out here, maybe three, and not every day. They’re responsible for 65 buildings in the city, and if anything fails or gets broken at any of them they have to address that first.”

Leyens decided the renovation should be done inhouse with the building maintenance crew, as the work would then count toward the city’s required 50 percent match — about $150,000 — of a federal grant. The city will use a share of a $1.3 million Community Development Block Grant it was awarded following Hurricane Katrina to help fund the terminal project. The remaining $1 million will be used on a new fire station at the airport, for which ground work began in September.

The terminal renovation will cost about $300,000 when all is said and done — but the when is still anyone’s guess.

“If we can get a crew out there on a consistent basis, I would say that project can be completed in two months, maybe a little more,” said Winfield. “It just hasn’t been a top priority.”

At Leyens’ urging, the terminal renovation got off to a promising start last fall, however, May said the city crew largely ignored the project from November through February. The crew was also pulled from the job for most of the summer after Mayor Paul Winfield defeated Leyens in the June election and office spaces were renovated at City Hall in preparation for the new administration.

“The exterior is nearly complete, which I would say was the most time-consuming part,” said Follmer, who noted the prefab terminal costs the airport $1,000 per month to rent. “If they were able to work strictly on this project, I would say it could be complete in six weeks, but that probably isn’t going to happen.”

Whenever it is completed, the renovated terminal will be modest — “kind of bare bones,” said Follmer — but will more than serve the small airport’s needs. There will be an info desk, some meeting space, a pilots lounge and office spaces for May and Follmer, who currently works from the City Hall Annex downtown.

It will not be the “cutting-edge, luxurious” terminal Leyens originally envisioned more than a year ago. There will be no clock tower or restaurant on the observation deck, which Leyens had hoped could be leased out to cover the airport’s major expenses. Pilot Doug Hall said that’s OK — Vicksburg Municipal customers don’t expect anything elaborate, just something comfortable.

“An airport’s volume really determines the facilities it needs. For an airport of this size, all the travelers and pilots really expect is a clean, decent place to relax for a few hours,” said Hall, while recently spending a three-hour layover in the prefab terminal. “What they’re doing with the old terminal is great and I applaud them for it, but they ought to be embarrassed by this.”

Doug Hall learned to fly at the Vicksburg Municipal Airport when he was still in high school some three plus decades ago. The Vicksburg native now lives in Longview, Texas, but has flown in and out of Vicksburg about once a week as a pilot for LeTourneau Technologies for the past 32 years. He’s killed time at airports from coast to coast, large and small, in his career, but said he’s never seen a modular home used as a terminal — not even on a temporary basis.

“The bottom of what I’ve seen over the past few years is better than what they’ve allowed the terminal to deteriorate to here,” he said. “A lot of people get their first impression of Vicksburg from the airport — people who fly recreationally, do business here or are considering doing business here. I don’t think this is the impression you want to give. Vicksburg should be able to do better.”

Follmer and Winfield are confident Vicksburg Municipal Airport will do better. The terminal renovation is just one project under way. There’re also the new fire station, and a new $775,000 T-hangar project that was recently awarded a construction bid. Follmer is seeking grant money for an approach path indicator system as well as weather and visibility technology upgrades.

Extra funds are not abundant in the city coffers and it is also spending about $31,000 per year as one-forth owner of the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport in Mound, La. Nonetheless, Winfield has said he’s committed to both airports. In the new fiscal year budget, Vicksburg Municipal was allotted $386,000, a decrease of about $45,000 from the fiscal year that ended on Oct. 1. Anticipated revenues from fuel sales and hangar rentals are approximately $220,000.

“I recognize most people in our community don’t use the airport, but I also realize its potential as an economic development tool down the road,” Winfield said. “I’m committed to making sure all of our projects at the airport will be finished in a timely fashion.”


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com

A  timeline

Events at Vicksburg Municipal Airport and Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport in Mound, La.:

• 1948 — Construction begins on Vicksburg Municipal on U.S. 61 South

• 1950 — Vicksburg Municipal opens, providing commercial service by Southern Airways.

• 1983 — Vicksburg, Warren County, Tallulah and Madison Parish agree to pursue $6 million in federal funding for the construction of VTR in Mound.

• 1993 — VTR opens.

• 1998 — Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen vote 2-1 to close Vicksburg Municipal, initiating a nearly four-year legal battle with local business interests wishing to keep the airport open.

• 1999 — Circuit Court Judge Frank Vollor rules Vicksburg Municipal must remain open.

• 2002 — Mississippi Supreme Court reverses, saying city officials have the authority to close municipal airport if they wish.

• 2004 — Under a new administration, the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen choose to keep Vicksburg Municipal open for at least seven more years.

• December 2007 — After 14 years of ineligibility, federal funds become available to Vicksburg Municipal once again.

• July 2008 — A fire station and new terminal at Vicksburg Municipal are planned.

• October 2008 — The City of Vicksburg takes over Vicksburg Municipal as an official city department and announces plans to renovate the existing terminal building rather than building a new one.

• December 2008 — At the urging of former Mayor Laurence Leyens, the city negotiates a 5-year extension of its operation agreement with its municipal partners at VTR as the agreement is set to renew a 25-year commitment.

• June 2009 — The Warren County Board of Supervisors holds off on signing the 5-year commitment to VTR (the only remaining partner not to sign the agreement), and suggests a 25-year commitment should be reconsidered.

• September 2009 — Dirt work begins on the new fire station at Vicksburg Municipal, and a construction bid is awarded for a new T-hangar facility.