SANDPOINT — For all of its glorious entry points and natural attributes, Sandpoint is lacking when it comes to providing an attractive gateway for those who arrive by air.
The Long Bridge acts as a scenic welcome mat for drivers coming in from the south, while City Beach gives a 360-degree view of lake and mountains that captures the heart of the community.
Out at the Sandpoint Airport, meanwhile, the visual greeting is limited to a Spartan perimeter of cyclone fencing ringed with barbed wire, surrounded by vehicle yards and vacant lots.
Airport Manager Dave Schuck believes the facility deserves better, especially in light of the increased jet traffic that uses the airport as its doorway to Bonner County.
“Our vision is to make the airport one of the entrances into our city, as opposed to looking like you’re climbing over a fence into somebody’s back yard,” Schuck said. “Right now, it looks like a prison entrance.”
Using money that remains from an initial $35,000 raised by more than 20 businesses and individuals that rallied in support of airport improvements several years ago, officials have launched what they are calling a “rehabilitation project” to give the entrance a complete facelift. The budget for materials and labor is $18,000, Shuck said, adding that Dr. Forrest and Pamela Bird have donated an additional $1,000 award for the winning design.
Design criteria include incorporating a Northwest theme for a main gate that will mask the current fence and greet visitors arriving from either the runway or along Airport Way. Signs, monuments and landscaping must all be lighted by photocells, while trees and plants are required to be drought-resistant and deer-proof.
Schuck said that all design entries must be submitted on 24- by 36-inch presentation board, including photos or illustrations depicting the finished design. A selection committee will choose 10 candidates for the project, with those entries being displayed at the airport for two weeks, at which point the committee will make its final recommendation for the winning design.
In a general sense, the airport wants to transform its image from that of a rundown, rural airstrip to one that more closely aligns with the affluent clientele that now uses the facility on a regular basis.
According to Jason Hauck, manager of SilverWing Flight Services — the company that now oversees “fixed-base operations” — this winter has logged a surprising up tick in private and business jets.
“Our holiday traffic was up 150 percent over last year and that was with the storms we had,” said Hauck, who added that the increase has continued into the New Year. “In the last three days, we’ve had five jets in and out of here. In a typical year, we wouldn’t get that many in all of February.”
When SilverWing took over management of the FBO, its first job was to invest $70,000 in what Hauck called a complete remodel “from the studs out.” Along with a pilot’s lounge, training center and conference room, the business purchased medical response carts and de-icing equipment to accommodate the expectations of affluent jet travelers and the pilots who fly them in.
Now that the interior of the building has been modernized, a more attractive entrance would continue the sprucing up of an airport that, for years, was batted back and forth between the city and county and, when mentioned at all, was labeled as a budgetary liability.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Hauck said. “This is a jewel in the county’s asset base that has just been crumbling.”
“You do hear a lot of negative stuff about the airport and the sense I get is that it’s not viewed as a community asset,” Schuck said. “But when you look at it from an economic impact standpoint, it’s huge.”
Schuck drew attention to an Idaho Transportation Department Division of Aeronautics study released last summer that shows Sandpoint Airport annually contributes $33 million to the local economy, based on 2007 figures. The study combines the multiplier effect from businesses using the airport, jobs created by those employers and money being spent by air travelers to reach that total amount. According to Hauck, it is the latter category that has been growing the fastest.
“There’s a lot of money that comes into the community with those clients on board,” he said, listing dollars spent at Schweitzer Mountain and in local restaurants and stores as examples. “The economic impact is really dramatic.”
One of the biggest issues facing the facility is the FAA’s decision to rate it as being out of compliance due to residential development that the county allowed to take place adjacent to the airport. Previous commissioners held their decision to allow such development up as a sign that they wouldn’t be pushed around by the federal agency. But their independent streak came at great cost — more than $150,000 in FAA funds lost every year for the past five years and additional millions in federal airport improvement funds cut off in the process.
Schuck said he was already seeing the results of neglect when he got his pilot’s license in 2000, well before the FAA halted funding.
“That’s why I got involved in the first place,” he said. “The county didn’t want it; the city didn’t want it. The airport was withering away.
“We were missing all of these opportunities for planned growth while the airport was at risk of becoming a field — and not an air field,” Schuck added.
By rolling out the entryway project, SilverWing’s Hauck thinks airport management is making a symbolic, but meaningful, move to raise awareness about the facility and the role it plays in the local economy.
“The airport has been treated like a stepchild, but it’s slowly starting to be seen as something valuable,” the FBO manager said. “This (entryway) shows that there’s finally some recognition to its importance.”
For complete entryway design contest criteria or for more information, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.