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EDC gets go-ahead to work toward air authority; A task force will be formed to help implement ideas to best market RIAC

John Mulcahy, left, and Bud Kunkel address the Roswell City Council Thursday night in the successful request to have the council adopt the findings of a recent study about the Roswell International Air Center and approve the establishment of a task force to work on implementing the study's recommendations. (Jeff Tucker Photo)

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The Roswell City Council has cleared the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. to take off on efforts to create an independent air authority.

An envisioned Roswell International Air Center Authority to govern, manage and market the air center as a commercial enterprise — and at some point in the future to possibly raise money by issuing bonds — has been recommended by several professional studies, including the economic feasibility study concluded in April by the Leland Consulting Group of Portland, Oregon.

The first step is establishing a community task force to work toward implementing the study’s findings, according to the study.

At its Thursday night meeting and following remarks by some City Council members indicating their hope that action would result from the study, the City Council voted 8 to 0 to adopt the report findings and to recognize the task force that will be formed by the economic group. Councilors Natasha Mackey and Tabitha Denny were absent during that portion of the meeting and did not vote.

“The board of directors of the Roswell-Chaves County EDC believes it to be in the best interest of Roswell and for the future success of economic development at the RIAC to include broad representation of the community to serve on the task force,” said Bud Kunkel, a former secretary of the economic group’s board of directors, when addressing councilors to ask for their approval.

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The Economic Development Corp.’s board of directors voted to adopt the study findings May 3, Kunkel said.

President of the EDC John Mulcahy said that the executive committee of the group’s board of directors will meet next week, with plans to have members of the task force named by August.

As Kunkel explained to the City Council, “For efficiency reasons, there should be no more than seven members of the task force, to include one member of the Roswell City Council and one member of the Chaves County Commission.”

Asked by Councilor Juan Oropesa why only one person from the City Council would serve on the task force, Mulcahy said that the study specifically recommended a broad representation of the community. The report suggested that the task force include an Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell representative, a person representing an aviation-related entity at the air center, a representative from a non-aviation entity at the air center, an EDC representative, and a local real estate broker, in addition to the county and city representatives. The task force is expected to report its determinations and decisions to the city.

EDC representatives and some councilors said the time had come to put professional recommendations into action.

“Just so you know, here is a book of prior studies that the community has paid for that nothing came from,” Kunkel said as he held up an inches-thick, three-ring binder to show council members.

Councilor Caleb Grant also expressed hope that action would occur soon.

“I am with you on all the studies that the city has sitting on the shelf that nothing has ever been done that taxpayers have paid for,” he said, “so hope we can get some traction with this.”

Councilor Steve Henderson said he thought progress could be made now.

“I think it is an opportunity for us to step forward and really make something out of our air center, so I appreciate the need for this,” Henderson said.

The Leland study was paid for by a $23,000 U.S. Department of Agricultural Rural Business Development grant and by $35,000 in city funds.

The study recommended having the authority in place within six months of adoption of the study, with other aspects taking as long as five years to implement. Other recommendations included hiring an asset manager as an executive director of the air authority and a property manager, both preferably with experience related to aviation.

The study said that the current staff structure and organizational priorities have not allowed staff to act and think strategically about the best tenants and businesses to attract to boost business and job growth in the area.

“While quite competent, the limited number of staff, (lack of) clear long-term vision, and management structure (have) created a system that is rather reactionary,” the study states. “Thus, proactive investments to maintain the RIAC as an asset and garner private investment cannot be implemented.”

The 4,600-square-foot air center on the south end of the city came under city ownership after the closure of the Walker Air Force Base in 1967. It includes the airport with its commercial airline service as well 63 city-owned buildings. Several aircraft maintenance, painting and repair businesses are located there, as well as businesses related to security and military training and aircraft flight training. The air center is also the location of the Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell campus, a public charter school and several government offices.

The Leland study indicates that average revenues for the air center, when adjusted for typical grant activity, is about $3.8 million a year. The air center recorded operating losses in 2015 and 2016 of $1.5 million and $252,651, but is expecting a profit for 2017 because of a projected $11 million grant funds.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.