Columbia Regional Airport tenants get financial relief

Wednesday, December 3, 2008 | 7:08 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Three businesses at Columbia Regional Airport have been granted some financial relief by the Columbia City Council as compensation for enduring a summer lapse in commercial air service.

The Skyline Café Restaurant and car rental agencies Hertz and Enterprise asked to be compensated by the city for their lack of business from June 29 to Aug. 18, the gap in time this summer after Air Midwest stopped flying out of Columbia Regional and Mesaba Airlines began operating.

Hertz will receive a two-month waiver of ground and office rent worth $1,382. Enterprise also will receive a two-month rent waiver and will not have to pay one month’s $500 minimum guarantee payment, at a total value of $445. Skyline Café Restaurant will receive a 50 percent rent reduction for two months to make up for the gross revenue its owners said was cut in half this summer, at a value of $453.

The lapse in commercial flights also hurt the airport. Its revenue for July and August was $58,985, an improvement over the $53,004 it collected over the same period in 2007. But city staff estimates that with passenger flights airport revenue from counter and office rent, fuel commissions, landing fees, jointly used premises fees and police fees might have generated an additional $6,200. Compensating the tenants will increase lost revenue by about $2,280.  

According to a report to the City Council from Public Works Director John Glascock, city staff did not object to the fee waivers but did note that since Mesaba Airlines began operating, activity at the airport has increased. The report cited that the gross receipts of Hertz and Enterprise this September were greater than gross receipts in September 2007.

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade voted against the fee reduction when it came up Monday night. He argued that all businesses go through good times and bad and that the tenants have not offered to pay more now that business has increased.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser agreed and voted against the waiver.

Airport Advisory Board member Don Miles had a different view.

“There was no aviation air service, so there were no customers walking through the terminal,” Miles said. “That’s really different than business being really bad or really good. There was no business.”

The board first received a petition for aid in July. It discussed the businesses’ formal written requests at its August meeting, then sent the letters on to the council with a recommendation of approval.

Miles said the board did not question whether the businesses should be helped, but members were unsure whether they should be helped in different ways. This was an issue because Hertz and Enterprise are both car rental agencies but asked for different amounts and types of aid.

“The debate was whether or not each of the tenants should be given the same request,” Miles said. In the end, the board recommended the council grant the requests as they were made.

Howard Cerini, president of Hertz licensee Cerini Investments, said he asked for an elimination of rent for the months without commercial air service because there were no customers or revenue during that time.

“The request for this was only for the time there was no air service here at Columbia Regional Airport,” Cerini said. “It was not an elimination of the percent of fees for what we did rent at that time.”

Cerini Investments said in its request that it saw a 50 percent drop in car rentals and a 38 percent drop in gross revenue this July. Rather than let its employees go when there was no commercial air service, the company continued to operate.

“We looked at it as a matter of good faith,” Cerini said. “We didn’t just walk out the door for six weeks.”

Cerini said that the agency’s business has increased since Mesaba began operating and that it look forwards to more improvement.

“Mesaba’s probably the best good news for Columbia Regional Airport in a long time,” Cerini said.

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