ELKHART — First impressions matter, and Andy Jones wants to make sure those arriving at the Elkhart Municipal Airport have a good first view of the city.
Work on the south side of the airport is ongoing as part of a beautification project. The plan is to repave Airport Road, work on landscaping by planting new grass and trees and install irrigation systems to the entrance of the airport. A sign at the entrance will also be fixed and lit up at night.
The façade of the old passenger terminal and a small park near the terminal will be restored.
"You only have one chance to make a first impression," airport manager Jones said. "And the impression we've been making has not been us putting our best foot forward."
INDIANA FLIGHT CENTER
One catalyst for all the changes is the influence of the Indiana Flight Center, which moved from the smaller northern side of the airport to the spacious southern side in the mid-2000s. Before then, the southern side was occupied by Bayer Corporation.
Now, any visitors to Elkhart arrive at the flight center, which is where all the beautification efforts are being made, Jones said.
"So when they depart by ground vehicle, the first impression they get from Elkhart is Airport Road and surrounding area, which was not very flattering," Jones said.
The flight center is the business that provides services such as fueling, hangaring and aircraft maintenance.
Whereas on the north side they had about 7,000 square feet to work with, the south side hangar gave the flight center 60,000 squared feet, said Brett Zierle, president of the Indiana Flight Center.
GROWTH AND ACTIVITY IN THE AIRPORT
Like many other business affected by the economic downturn in 2008, airports saw a dip in the number of takeoffs and landings, Jones said. Elkhart, as it turned out, was no exception.
But now, like many other sectors of the economy, the airport is starting to see a turnaround too, Jones said.
The airport had 27 empty hangars in 2008. Now there are only three. Jones attributes part of the growth of the airport to Mayor Dick Moore, who has been responsive to the airport’s requests, he said.
"Without Mayor Moore's support of the airport over the past six years, much of the progress we have made at the airport could not have been possible," Jones said.
According to the 2012 Indiana Airport Economic Impact Study, conducted for the Aviation Association of Indiana, the Elkhart Municipal Airport's economic output in 2012 was $194,501,190. The airport also created more than 1,500 jobs, according to the study.
Jones said the airport has tried to utilize as much of its resources as it can. DLZ Industrial LLC rented part of the airport and uses it as a test facility. The company also has space for meetings and storage.
Mach Air LLC purchased a hangar that was heavily damaged from a fire a few years ago, and the company is renovating it for an aircraft management business.
Another source of income for the airport is an agricultural land lease. Jones asked for a study to be made on the airport and how much of its land could be leased for agricultural purposes. The airport receives $150 per acre and is currently leasing about 200 acres.
Part of the airport’s task was to find affordable entertainment, and this year it will host two shows in September that are both affordable for the city and the community.