November 17, 2011
By Lynne P. Shackleford
The Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport made its official debut Thursday morning.
A crowd of dignitaries, pilots and business leaders gathered outside the newly renovated facility – described as one of the finest general aviation airports in the state – braving wind and chilly weather for grand opening ceremonies.
During the planning stages of the renovation process, there were discussions to demolish the terminal building and start again. But airport Director Darwin Simpson said he’s glad city leaders took the initiative to save the shell of the old building after removing asbestos to transform the facility into a gateway that Spartanburg can be proud of.
By preserving the terminal building that was built in 1935, Spartanburg showed its commitment to historic preservation while welcoming in a new era in aviation, said Simpson, a retired chemical company executive who accepted in position in 2009 for $1 annually.
The airport, Simpson said, is a gateway into the city for many, including prospective businesses.
“You know, with the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Eddie Rickenbacker who have visited this very place, the sky is really the limit as to the success we can achieve,” Simpson said.
Visitors entering the building will notice floor markings that resemble how a runway looks when an airplane lands.
The terminal building features an observation tower where visitors can watch airplanes take off and land, three conference rooms and a pilot lounge.
The building also houses War Bird aviation artifacts and historic paintings.
There are nine office spaces in the building, all of which have been rented.
Former state Rep. Bob Walker now serves on the state aeronautics commission and noted the importance of the airport.
“An airport is important to economic development. The facility we have now puts us among the top in the state,” Walker said. “We’re fortunate here that we have a lot of history to build on.”
City Manager Ed Memmott said council should be commended for taking a chance during a tough economic period when it would have been easy to pull back.
“This is truly a business hub,” Memmott said. “This will undoubtedly help bring businesses to this community and we would not be here without cooperation and support from the county, TD Bank, the Federal Aviation Administration and the state aeronautics commission.”
Memmott said the facility, along with two additional T-hangars, represent a $4.4 million investment. Memmott recognized Charles Chamberlain, president of TD Community Development Corporation, for financing the project.
“They always find a way to make the deals and project work,” Memmott said of TD Bank, adding the financing involved complex New Market Tax Credits.
Mayor Junie White said the Noble Tree Foundation plans to donate trees valued at $28,000 that will be planted at the airport.
“We should all be proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish here,” White said. “The airport has a strong connection to the city and county and we want others to see what we already know and that’s Spartanburg is a wonderful place to be.”
Councilman Joe Spigner said the airport is a wonderful educational tool to promote aviation and aviation history. A children’s playground is planned for an outdoor plaza. Proceeds from the sales of Ed Hall’s historical book, Spartanburg Memorial Airport, will go toward the playground, estimated to cost about $50,000.