Chamber considers giving neighboring communities more say in airport's management

Monday, August 27, 2012 | 5:20 p.m. CDT; updated 1:27 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 28, 2012

*This story has been corrected to reflect that Boone County also has a voting member on the Airport Advisory Board.

COLUMBIA — A Columbia Chamber of Commerce task force is discussing alternative management options for Columbia Regional Airport, including sharing control with other mid-Missouri communities, task force member Dave Griggs said.

A regional management structure for the airport could feature an expanded Airport Advisory Board with more representatives from other communities in the region. The advisory board would have more "management authority" than it has now, Griggs said.

"It is a regional airport, and we want to truly make it that way," Griggs said.

Griggs is chairman of the task force's governance committee, which is studying how other airports are managed to find ideas for Columbia's airport.

"We are comparing budgets to see which is operated best," Griggs said. "What things are other airports doing that are successful that we aren't doing?"

The subcommittee has examined Springfield-Branson National Airport and Manhattan Regional Airport, which are municipally owned, and Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Ill., a regional airport authority. City officials have visited Central Illinois and Springfield-Branson, said Kristi Ray, executive vice president of the chamber.

Central Illinois Regional Airport is admired for its ability to hold its own against Chicago O'Hare International Airport, which is only a couple hours away, Ray said.

Greg Steinhoff, leader of the chamber task force, emphasized that a regional authority is only one of many management styles the chamber is considering for the airport.

"We are not leaning toward that possibility," Steinhoff said. "It's very exploratory."

A bill passed in July by the Missouri General Assembly, which became law without the governor's signature, allows city and county governments to band together to create an airport authority.

District 24 state Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, handled the bill in the House. He said he has been trying to pass it for the past two legislative sessions. Kelly said he worked with Columbia officials and people at Regional Economic Development, Inc., to draft the language.

"All of mid-Missouri would benefit from this," Kelly said.

Of the 11 voting members on the airport's existing advisory board, three represent the mid-Missouri communities of Jefferson City, Fulton and Ashland. Seven voting members are appointed by the Columbia City Council and must be registered Columbia voters. The Boone County Commission appoints one voting member.*

Columbia officials have been entertaining the idea of regional management of the airport for years. In 2008, the City Council approved a vision plan, created with input from hundreds of Columbia residents, that advocated establishing a regional authority to manage the airport and changing the airport's name "to reflect its regional nature."

The chamber has raised the prospect of sharing management of the airport during presentations to business leaders from Jefferson City and Fulton, Griggs said. The main purpose of the presentations has been to encourage them to use the airport and to consider contributing to a revenue guarantee fund to attract more flights.

"I think the reception has been very good," Griggs said.

The chamber task force eventually will issue a report to the City Council, Steinhoff said.

"It is very possible we won't make any recommendation for a while," Steinhoff said. "We want to see how well we do in getting air service in the short term."

Griggs hopes that if other communities become more involved in the airport's management, they will be more likely to choose it over competing airports such as Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

"If we have more input, there's more potential for support," Griggs said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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