Victoria Regional Airport commissioners Tuesday discussed how to best manage leases and rentals of airport buildings.
At the meeting, commissioners discussed plans for the Victoria County Master Gardener Association’s lease. Recently, the airport was found in “conditional compliance” in an audit by the Federal Aviation Administration mainly because of numerous aeronautical and non-aeronautical leases the administration said needed to be addressed.
Airport director Lenny Llerena said the Master Gardeners’ situation was flagged by the FAA because they were operating with essentially no lease at all.
The potential 10-year lease for the association is structured for the gardeners to pay $6,000 annually in installments of $500 per month. The county would contribute about an additional $526 per month, Llerena said.
The conversation Tuesday centered on an agreement to give the association five free rentals of the officers’ club per year, which Llerena said County Judge Ben Zeller arranged. Airport commissioners largely did not agree with the arrangement.
Airport Commissioner Dennis Patillo said while he supports the county determining subsidies for certain groups that can benefit the community, if the commissioners were to agree to offer the five free rentals, the gardeners essentially would pay nothing at all.
The current price to rent the officers’ club is $1,200, Llerena said. At that cost, Patillo said, those five rentals have a value of $6,000, which is the total the gardeners pay all year.
“My concern isn’t with the Master Gardeners; my concern is, how do we determine which group receives that sort of benefit?” he said.
Airport Commission Chairman Trey Ruschhaupt said the “sticking point” with commissioners was whether such a move would set a precedent for other nonprofits that may want to set up similar arrangements.
Zeller said the concern that the agreement would create a precedent is “not applicable here.” The airport has projected to earn about $40,000 from rentals of the officers’ club in 2020, he said, and because the gardens enhance the area, they will increase the club’s marketability.
“From my point of view, I think the $6,000 concession is more than made up in terms of what they provide in benefit to the airport,” he said.
Patillo, however, said the officers’ club has been reconstructed “with a lot of money and more likely needs to be spent.” The venue does not have a finished kitchenette space, though that was included in its original plans. He said the “construction in and of itself should stand on its own two feet for the value of rentals.”
County Commissioner Gary Burns asked Zeller whether the commissioners court voted on the decision to subsidize costs for the gardeners and offer the five free rental dates. He said he thinks the decision is “catering to a special interest group.”
Zeller said the contract has not yet formally come before the court, the airport commission or the Master Gardeners.
“You would certainly have the opportunity to vote against any nonprofit of your choosing when that opportunity arises,” he told him.
Llerena said the FAA has not seen a drafted lease that includes the five free rentals. If the commission chose to provide the free rentals, he said, the FAA would want to see a source of revenue making up for that $6,000.
The commission ultimately voted not to add the five free rentals into the new lease. Patillo acknowledged that the gardeners do “a lot of beautification” as well as benefit the airport in different ways and said the airport commission can compensate them in ways not related to the lease.
Also Tuesday, commissioners discussed plans for two buildings on airport property that were previously leased by the University of Houston-Victoria and Fisher Stevens. The two buildings remain unrepaired after Hurricane Harvey, though commissioners said they could be valuable sources of revenue to the airport.
Airport Commissioner Buddy Billups said when he walked through the UHV building with Llerena, it was a “depressing tour.” Commissioners discussed different options for the building, including fixing it to become a rentable office space with a storage area.
Patillo suggested having a space planner view the building to provide ideas. He said it could be worthwhile to have an environmental expert look at it, too, to address any environmental concerns.
Ruschhaupt said it is “an income opportunity that we can’t pass up.”
Similarly, the former Fisher Stevens building is a large warehouse that received a new roof after the hurricane, though it still has significant damage. Patillo said it would be wise to have someone who specializes in warehouses view it to suggest options for how to rent it.
Commissioners also addressed the airport’s maintenance shop, which was damaged during Harvey and sustained damage in a recent storm.
Ruschhaupt said the best plan is to demolish the building and build a new one. The commissioners planned to move forward with examining options and creating plans for the buildings and will present their plans to the commissioners court later.