The Fergus County Port Authority members and the Airport Board members are working together on a plan to highlight the business park at the Lewistown Municipal Airport, hoping to spur development.
Approved by the Airport Board in September of 2017, the 20-acre business park sits along Airport Road. The area is currently leased to the Central Montana Flywheelers, who hold Pioneer Power Days on a portion of the land, the National Guard Armory and the Lewistown Trap and Skeet Club.
“About a half dozen years ago we had an engineer do a survey of the area, and he made a map showing roads and parcels,” said Airport Manager Jerry Moline. “We even looked into the cost to develop the roads, and put in curb and gutter, sewer and electric lines, but it was something like $4 million. At this point, we can’t do that level of investment, so we are looking for tenants who would bring in those services.”
The idea, Moline said, is to improve income to the airport, which he thinks leasing to businesses would do a better job of than, perhaps, the airport’s existing leases do.
Chairman of the Airport Board Steve Mosby said he understands the idea of relocating the existing tenants might not sit well with some.
“We discussed this last fall. We have a location picked out where they can go, so if it comes to pass that someone wants to rent in the business park, we will move the existing [lessees] to another location on airport land, nearer the drag strip,” Mosby said. “They [current tenants] realize they are sitting on prime real estate.”
County Commissioner Ross Butcher, who serves on the Airport Board, said he “drove around” with Moline some months ago, looking at a variety of lots the airport has for rent, both in and outside of the business park.
“We put up a sign saying some of these lots were for lease, and we got someone letting us know they were interested right after that,” Butcher said. “It doesn’t hurt to let people know you have property available.”
Bret Carpenter, chairman of the Fergus County Port Authority, said it’s the economic development angle that interests his board.
“Back when the Port Authority was formed, one of the main goals was to have a business park or industrial park developed, so if someone came knocking, looking to locate a business here, we would be, as they say, ‘shovel ready,’” Carpenter said. “That was probably 20 years ago that goal was set.”
Now, Carpenter said, the concept is inching closer to completion.
“We received an anonymous donation for promoting the airport business park,” he said. “We used it to create a packet of information, with a map of the business park, that could be given to potential investors. We have some extra money left over, and we want to use that to have a sign installed that promotes the business park.”
Carpenter said a version of the sign, created by Port Authority Board member Chris Cooler and sign maker Kirk Eastman, has been drafted and will be presented to the Airport Board for their review and possible approval at the March 6 meeting.
“It will be a 6’ by 8’ sign, so people driving by on Airport Road will realize there are opportunities there,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter said another aspect of developing the park is figuring out how to get utilities developed.
“I’m hoping maybe the City would work out a service loop for water and electric, maybe through the middle of the business park, when they upgrade their services out there,” he said. “Or maybe there’s another way to get this done. Otherwise the first person to buy in will need to figure out how to get the services put in, and that could be a big hurdle.”
Carpenter said the Port Authority has been partnering with the Big Sky Economic Development group out of Billings on other economic development matters.
“They don’t have a business park like this one,” Carpenter said. “They said they’d sure love to have one. We told them, ‘if you get someone who wants something like this, just send them up here.’ They said they’d work together with us.”