With nine years of preparation behind him, Frank Arenas, owner of the FreeFlight Airport in Coleman, has launched his hangar project.
The little airport is perhaps best known as a center for skydiving, but if Arenas’ plan goes as designed, it will be the little airport with the condominium hangars — lots of them. At build out, FreeFlight will boast up to 60 new T-hangars and box hangars, according to Arenas.
The marketing has started and Arenas hopes to break ground this fall. There are plans to pave the runway as well.
“Probably not for the first year or year and half,” Arenas says, “but, eventually, yes.”
FreeFlight has a 4,170-foot-long grass strip and has been a licensed airport since 1976. Arenas has owned it for nearly 20 years. FreeFlight also is close to The Villages — close enough that The Villages Flyers bases its club airplane there.
When asked “Why launch now?” Arenas’ answer was simple: “The market. And it took me nine years to get all the permits. We didn’t get final approval until October of 2013. It’s land-use issues.”
At Saturday’s fly-in at FreeFlight, Arenas had a table set up for pilots interested in purchasing the new hangars. Tom Lane, of The Villages, who has not flown for a while, is thinking of changing that.
Explaining that his wife is not too keen on his current toy, a “highly-modified Mustang” that he races on dirt tracks, Lane said “I’m thinking of getting into ultralights.”
Realtor Judie Betz is a part of Arenas’ project, and was manning the hangar table at the fly-in.
“This is very unique,” Betz says. “His concept is great, because at The Villages, they have so much stuff, and not enough space to put it.”
Betz notes that at public airports, you may be asked to leave if you rent hangar space and fail to put an aircraft in the hangar. In contrast, there are no such restrictions at Coleman.
“Whatever you want to do, it’s yours,” Betz says.
Though some of Arenas’ box hangars may well end up housing RVs, antique cars, boats, or all of the above, general aviation pilots stand to gain the most from the project, as hangar space is at a premium.
Leesburg Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 534 president Joel Hargis said finding hangar space in Lake County is very tough.
“I think there is a rather long waiting list for T-hangars,” he said. “I am told that there’s not much space in Ocala. I am told there’s some hangar space in Umatilla. Hangar space is hard to come by, so what they’re doing here is at least an opportunity.”
At Umatilla, in fact, there is no available hangar space. Twelve of their 13 individual hangars — built several years ago with grant money — are rented out.
The last hangar, according to City Manager Glenn Irby, is being used for emergency storage, as there is a leak at city hall. Irby says that once the leak is fixed, the hangar will be rented out.
“We could have rented it several times these past few months,” Irby said.
Irby also confirmed that Umatilla has an aircraft-only restriction that Judie Betz alluded to, since his city’s hangar grant came with strings attached.
Noting that he did allow a short-term rental to a gentleman in need of a place to work on his RV roof, Irby said he told the man, “If a pilot shows up and he wants to rent the space, you gotta go.”