The San Fernando Valley aviator who helped pioneer corporate jet flight around the world ceremoniously broke ground Thursday on a $10 million expansion of his Clay Lacy Aviation headquarters at Van Nuys Airport.
A morning groundbreaking ceremony attended by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other officials celebrated the expansion of the airport’s largest master lease tenant, pending a final approval by the City Council this month.
“The new development is a positive example of when the city, community and business people get together to expand in this community and create jobs,” said Brian Kirkdoffer, president and CEO of Clay Lacy Aviation, a privately held company launched by Lacy in 1968. “We’ve been a senior tenant at Van Nuys Airport for 46 years, and what we are building at the land to the left will serve us for decades to come.”
The $150 million company that boasts a fleet of 76 aircraft at 10 West Coast airports is set to expand onto 6 acres south of its world headquarters at 7435 Valjean Ave. at a site undeveloped for 60 years.
An 83,000-square-foot L-shaped structure will include a private VIP terminal, two aircraft hangars, executive offices, training facilities and aircraft ramp space, allowing the company to help consolidate its growing fleet of corporate jets.
Pending final approval from the city, the Clay Lacy Aviation South Campus is set to be completed by fall.
Already the largest employer at Van Nuys Airport with 300 skilled aviation employees, Clay Lacy Aviation’s new headquarters could bring 50 more high-paying jobs to Van Nuys Airport in the company’s first expansion since 1986.
The nation’s second-largest general aviation airport, which in recent years has shifted more to commercial business aviation, contributes $1.3 billion a year to the local San Fernando Valley, city officials said.
A pending lease to expand the Clay Lacy Aviation headquarters on land controlled by Los Angeles World Airports could generate $31 million for the city over a 30-year term, with property taxes adding $2.4 million over the same period.
“We are so excited this $10 million investment by Clay Lacy will not only highlight our aerospace past, but pave the way for our aerospace future,” said Garcetti, who grew up near the airport, squinting into the sun during a news conference buffeted by a strong northeasterly breeze. “Van Nuys Airport is on the move.
“Van Nuys will become a gateway to the rest of the world.”
City officials also celebrated saving a North Valley Occupational Center aviation mechanics school, located across the runway, at the urging of the aviation pioneer whose company now employs many graduates, about 100 who attended the Thursday groundbreaking.
The Los Angeles Unified school, threatened by closure during budget cuts two years ago, was saved by a $1-a-year airport lease with the permission of the Federal Aviation Administration. It now certifies aviation mechanics who can immediately earn up to $70,000 a year.
“Any time you have a cut in education, it impacts the classroom,” said Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who as a former Los Angeles schools trustee had worked to save the aircraft mechanics school. “Clay said, ‘What can I do to help?’ because many of his employees graduated from there.”
Lacy, a legendary aviator with 29 world speed records who learned to fly when he was 12, flew the first Learjet coast to coast and back in a day, in May 1965. As the West Coast distributor based at Van Nuys Airport for the commercial jet company, he helped launch a global business jet industry catering to executives and Hollywood celebrities.
He’s been flying planes out of Van Nuys Airport since 1952, including the military’s Lockheed T-33 Shooting Stars after the runway was expanded, as well as the first business jet to land at the airport.
“Not a bad day,” said Lacy, 83, of Bel-Air, as a commercial jet roared off toward the south behind him. “A little bit a wind, huh? Not bad.
“As I look out onto the airport here … I realize how important Van Nuys Airport has been to me personally,” Lacy added, not far from his first Learjet 24, which he’s restored. “People sometimes ask me, How is it you live in Los Angeles, with traffic and other issues?
“I say, ‘L.A. has been good to me — and I love it!’”
Other businesses are also expanding at Van Nuys Airport. Construction is underway for a $20 million park for propeller-driven aircraft known as The Park. Final phase of the propeller park being developed by Pacific Aviation will include retail stores, a restaurant and new hangars and is set to be completed by 2018.
Requests for proposals have also been released on the $30 million redevelopment of the former Pentastar property on the north side of the airport last operated by Basenet, a fixed base operator that had filed for bankruptcy, airport officials said.
Signature Flight Support, another fixed base operator, hopes to develop to large hangars, while Aerolease/Aeroplex Group hopes to start construction of a 40,000-foot facility by early next year.