Leesburg plans to build a $1.2 million seaplane ramp to help Wipaire, a manufacturer of float planes, bring dozens of high-paying jobs to Leesburg International Airport.
In grant applications to fund the project, the city said it would take 150 days to construct the 859-foot ramp, and the economic impact would include 60 new jobs at an average wage of $52,000.
Leesburg City Manager Al Minner told city commissioners on Monday night that a seaplane ramp was vital for economic development.
He said pilots would be able to land in Lake Harris, taxi onto the airport operations area via the taxiway extension, and receive servicing from Wipaire while also taking part in recreational seaplane activities next door in Tavares, the city that bills itself as the “seaplane capital of the world.”
“There is a whole lot of synergy that we can trade off of from the success of our neighbor and bring that success next door to our airport, and one of the things that we need to do for that is build the seaplane ramp,” Minner said.
In order to construct a ramp, Minner said the city would extend the taxiway off runway No. 31, and mitigation would also be needed in the wetland areas. He said preliminary engineering estimates for the design and construction of the project came to $1.2 million.
“It is a big number,” Minner said, adding the city has identified three financial sources to fund the project, including a $420,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to assist with design and construction of the project. The grant provides 100 percent funding with no local match, based on the amount of jobs to be created by Wipaire.
“We have demonstrated to the FDOT that we have created 60 jobs, and because of the job creation, they are willing to give us an economic development grant in the amount of $420,000 with no match,” he said.
Minner said the city also has identified another FDOT grant for $520,000.
“We are in the hopper for that grant through their cycles and right now that grant is a 50/50 grant,” he said, adding the city also has applied for an economic development jobs grant from Lake County for $300,000, which also appears to be a 50/50 grant. Minner said as a worst case scenario, the city would have to come up with $465,000 to complete the project, which would be added to next year’s city budget.
“I think the most likely scenario is probably in the $150,000 to $200,000 range that we will
probably need to fund it.”
The commissioners voted unanimously in accepting the $420,000 grant from the FDOT, while Leesburg resident Don Lukich objected to the project, specifically if the completion of the ramp will result in money coming from the city’s general fund.
“Why do I and 99 percent of citizens of Leesburg have to pay for the airport? I don’t think that a dime of it should come out of the budget, because 99.5 percent of the people of this city don’t even go to the airport,” he said.
Minner said economic development is of general interest, but he plans to propose that the city have an airport fund that doesn’t affect taxpayers.