By Sonu Munshi
February 4, 2011
Peoria officials are in preliminary talks with developers to build a 2,240-acre municipal airport and airpark in the city’s north end. The City Council Tuesday voted unanimously to enter exclusive negotiations with Osage West LLC, a company that includes Peoria resident and developer Mike Oliver and the Osage Nation, an Oklahoma-based Indian tribe. The group wants to work with the city to develop an airport and business-oriented airpark northeast of Loop 303 and Lake Pleasant Parkway.
The airport would begin as a general aviation airport, rather than serving commercial flights. City money would go into the project if it moves forward, although city officials had no detail yet on financing.
They say plans are in the early stages, but such a project would help launch the city’s economic development ambitions for that area. “This may sound like a pie-in-the-sky, and that’s probably exactly where it is right now, but if it were to happen, it would exceed my wildest expectations,” Mayor Bob Barrett told the Republic.
Under the agreement, the city and Osage West will negotiate the deal for one year. They must iron out numerous hurdles. The developers must determine whether the Arizona State Land Department would be willing to sell the land they have in mind. The must open talks with the Federal Aviation Administration for clearances. And they must meet with area government agencies, such as the Arizona Department of Transportation, the Flood Control District of Maricopa County and Luke Air Force Base.
Barrett said any problems with the latter would be a deal breaker for him. “If there were any chance it would be a problem for Luke, I’d take it off the table,” Barrett said.
The base is too vital an economic engine to mess with that relationship, he said.
Peoria’s Economic Development Director Scott Whyte wasn’t yet prepared to say whether there is room for another municipal airport in the West Valley, which has airports in Buckeye, Glendale, Deer Valley and Goodyear.
Peoria has a small privately-owned general-aviation airport for the public’s use at the intersection of Carefree Highway and Lake Pleasant Parkway. Pleasant Valley Airport is best known for its glider school.
The negotiating period is “about taking a concept and looking at it from different angles,” Whyte said. “We don’t know yet whether it’s feasible.”
But the confluence of the airport and Loop 303, now under construction, would make the airpark attractive for companies.
“This would help us feed our employment corridor,” Whyte said.
Oliver said he came up with the idea to partner with Peoria after finding research the city completed in the 1990s that looked at the viability of an airport. It showed the city could support an airport, although no money was available to get the project off the ground.
Oliver is looking at land within the city limits that is zoned for industrial and commercial development. He said it’s far enough north that there shouldn’t be any impact on existing homes.
“Because of the blank slate out there and the ability to capitalize on the 303, it gives it an advantage equal to or better than other existing Valley municipal airports,” Oliver said.
He said he would like to see it develop like Scottsdale’s airpark, which has numerous businesses near the city airport. But he cautioned development is still years away, estimating at least five to 10 years.
This would be the first airport venture for Oliver, an Arizona native, who is a general contractor and developer. Among other development projects, he was involved in a condominium project in Scottsdale with another partner in 2004.
He got connected to the Osage tribe through dealings with Red Eagle Feather of Oklahoma, a consultant for the Indian nation.
The tribe seeks to diversify into the real-estate market from its interests in casinos, oil and gas.
Already the tribe has a joint venture with Manhattan Construction Group called Osage Manhattan Builders. The Manhattan group is known for building arenas including Reliant Stadium in Houston, and the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Whyte welcomed the tribe’s potential investment in Peoria.
He said it’s hard to find anyone with capital these days, which makes such an ambitious project more unique.
“At times like these you have to go to non-traditional equity sources, so we’re very excited about them being interested in the city,” Whyte said.
Council members showed cautious optimism.
The airport venture, along with the city’s exclusive negotiations to attract an Ottawa University downtown, show the city is serious about “an aggressive economic development strategy,” Councilman Dave Pearson said. The mayor said he could only hope things work out.
“If they buy the land and begin this, boy, that area would just boom,” Barrett said.