Airport commission approves plan to address noncompliant building leases

Jan Regan, 72, of Port Lavaca, walks toward a Boutique Air airplane in 2018 at the Victoria Regional Airport.

The Victoria Regional Airport commission on Thursday approved a corrective action plan to address building leases recently found to be noncompliant with federal land use standards.

In mid-July, a Federal Aviation Administration compliance program manager conducted a three-day audit at the airport and found it to be in “conditional compliance,” mainly because of numerous buildings that are currently leased below the market value rate or were based on “handshake agreements.”

“What we’re looking at is, the FAA found us at conditional compliance, which is one step above non-compliant,” airport director Lenny Llerena said Thursday. “My job is to keep this airport compliant in every single way.”

At Thursday’s meeting, the commission reviewed the leases and Llerena’s recommendations for handling them.

Llerena said one of the problems the FAA has found was with automatic renewals.

Llerena said Memory Meadows Pet Memorial Park, with the Dorothy O’Connor Pet Adoption Center, has a long-term lease that doesn’t expire until 2047. Llerena said his recommendation to the FAA will be to approach the lessee and see whether it would be willing to work with the airport and increase the rate.

“They don’t have to, but we will try,” he said. “Unfortunately because of the contractual agreement, there’s not much we can do.”

Another noncompliant lease is with the Victoria Skeet and Trap Club. When the club’s lease ends in 2022 – though there is no formal contractual agreement for the lease, Llerena said – there are a few buildings that will become property of the airport.

Llerena said he will consider an option of charging rent on the buildings and the 50 acres used for the range. He said the club pays $1,250 a year, but with the adjusted rent would “most likely” increase to pay about $1,250 a month.

He said that price for the number of buildings and acres would be “pretty reasonable,” and with the number of members the club has, should be easy for the club to meet. The possible agreement still needs to be worked out, Llerena said.

The soccer fields were another “big issue” the FAA had, Llerena said. Originally, he said, the lessee was supposed to do some marketing for the airport and cover maintenance of the fields, but they haven’t done that.

He said the FAA wants the airport to find a way for the airport to get paid for the fields. One option, Llerena said, is to see whether the airport can add an airport-use fee to what the fields charge for players. For example, if they charge $100 per player, they could charge $110 and the additional $10 would go to the airport.

Sky Restaurant at the airport is another “difficult one,” Llerena said.

It is tough for restaurants at airports to survive, Llerena said, and he doesn’t want to “scare it away from the airport.” He said he may discuss the restaurant doing some marketing for the airport, possibly with tabletops or as part of the menu, or possibly having a small percentage of charges on alcoholic drinks go to the airport.

Llerena said he will meet with the restaurant owner to discuss possible solutions.

The Victoria County Extension Office at the airport pays an acceptable amount, Llerena said, but needs a lease.

The airport commission approved the corrective action plan, which Llerena will submit to the FAA. He said the plan is due Sept. 4.

Morgan Theophil covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6511, mtheophil@vicad.com or on Twitter.

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