NORTH SWANZEY — City officials want to better develop the land at the Keene-owned airport.
At a meeting Tuesday night, Airport Director Edward J. Mattern and City Manager John A. MacLean talked about future opportunities for Dillant-Hopkins Airport in North Swanzey.
Proposals include either fixing or replacing the 1960s-built terminal building, renovating other airport buildings on the property that are in poor shape, and more development of the hangars, where aircraft are stored.
Mattern and MacLean said the land could be developed more by working with Monadnock Economic Development Corp., a Keene-based, not-for-profit development investment firm that has built up the former railroad land downtown previously owned by the city. The airport, which is on about 1,000 acres, is a general aviation airport and does not have any commercial flights.
Six of the 15 councilors attended Tuesday’s meeting — Mitchell H. Greenwald, Philip M. Jones, James P. Duffy, Philip Dale Pregent, David R. Meader and and Janis O. Manwaring. But some weren’t too optimistic about the airport development, and showed signs of frustration after listening to Mattern speak about future possibilities.
It’s highly unlikely the airport will have commercial flights, as it once did, because of its proximity to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport and the difficulty in attracting large airlines to a small airport, Mattern said. But there are other ways for the airport to bring in money that would benefit the city. Mattern spoke of more flight training done by Monadnock Aviation at the airport. When pilots register their aircraft, it can cost up to $100,000, and 25 percent of that goes to the city.
If more hangars are developed, that could also increase the number of companies wanting to use the airport, as Keene-based C&S Wholesales Grocers does. Right now there are about 85 aircraft stored at the airport, including three C&S jets, Mattern said. Nearly all of the 32 hangars are filled, and while there was more of a wait list for hangars before the economic downturn, Mattern said if more hangars are built, he believes they would be filled.
MacLean noted how a few years ago the Community College System of New Hampshire proposed having its airplane maintenance program at the airport. That project eventually fell through, but MacLean said it’d be ideal if there was another proposal similar to that now.
City officials are also looking at non-aviation businesses coming to the airport. Right now, the co-owners of JimEddie’s restaurant are planning to start a second location at the airport in the space formerly occupied by the India Pavilion restaurant. India Pavilion left the airport earlier this year after about 10 years at the airport. The City Council still needs to OK the lease when it’s finalized.
The area across from the terminal building, near the old fire department’s training facilities, might be the home of a proposed dog park, too. City officials are looking at three spots in the city for a dog park and favor the airport land because there is already parking and trails for people to walk their dogs on.
Mattern said if more businesses come to the airport, something will have to be done about the aging buildings on the land. For example, he said, the City Council will need to decide if it’s worth it to put money into the terminal building to fix it up or if it’s better to just replace it. Another building doesn’t even have plumbing, he said.
After Mattern spoke, councilors had the opportunity to respond. Greenwald said he was impatient, and felt as if the same ideas kept being presented over the years with little progress. He noted that there was still even a sign on the property for the India Pavilion restaurant, which hadn’t been there for months.
“Twenty years ago, I heard the same thing,” Greenwald said. “This is a faraway kingdom from the center of Keene.”
Manwaring also said she was frustrated, saying the airport was like a little Volkswagen city officials wanted to make into a nice, faster and better car.
But Councilors Duffy and Jones noted how many jobs are created by the airport, including the taxi drivers who take pilots to and from Dillant-Hopkins Airport and the restaurants that feed pilots when they’re in town. Duffy said it’d be worth it to put money into the airport development because there would be so many benefits.
MacLean and Mattern will discuss the possibilities further and present ideas to the City Council soon.
“There needs to be a vision for the airport,” MacLean said.