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Kunkel continues push for airport authority

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Bud Kunkel, past chairman of the EDC board of directors, says his opinion is that Roswell needs the “intestinal fortitude” to embrace a new future that includes an airport authority. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

The city of Roswell needs to commit to a serious investigation of the financial feasibility of an airport authority for the Roswell Air Center, the past chairman of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. told members.

Bud Kunkel talked to the group at its Wednesday annual meeting held both online and at the EDC offices on North Main Street.

His presentation came before remarks by Mayor Dennis Kintigh, who announced the city’s successful efforts to convince American Airlines to continue flight service here.

The airline’s decision was the reversal of an announcement about a week ago to suspend services here from Oct. 7 until at least Nov. 3 because of passenger demand and financial problems resulting from the pandemic.

Kunkel served as chairman of the EDC board of directors for more than a year and was a member of an EDC task force that led the successful effort to get enacting state legislation for the creation of an airport authority as a special economic district. He also serves with the mayor on the city of Roswell Airport Advisory Commission.

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“I want to stress that the thoughts that follow are my thoughts and I am not speaking on behalf of the Roswell-Chaves County EDC,” Kunkel said. “However, I am convinced that most business people with whom I have spoken, both in Roswell and in the Artesia area, are in agreement with what I am about to present.”

He contrasted Artesia and Roswell. He said Roswell has not embraced a new future since 1967, when the U.S. Air Force deeded the former military air base to the city. But Artesia had the “intestinal fortitude” to develop around the energy sector.

The energy that Roswell needs to develop, he said, are “jobs, jobs, jobs.” That will require city and county leaders to work together to develop the Roswell Air Center as the hub for new businesses and jobs to build on the already strong agricultural, tourism and service industries here.

And the key to the Roswell Air Center development, he said, is the development of an independent airport authority that will be able to focus on becoming a regional economic driver and job creator.

He said city leadership, including the mayor, has “overshadowed” discussions about developing the authority by putting the responsibility for developing sound financial and organizational plans on EDC volunteers, rather than on city and county leaders. He also said the air center is too focused on raising rents rather than on economic development.

“The pertinent question is whether there is adequate intestinal fortitude of our elected officials, in cooperation with the business community, to develop a plan that will allow the RAC to become the energizing force to produce jobs, jobs, jobs and allow Roswell to move forward instead of remaining at our current minimal-energy economic level,” he said.

Kintigh and other city officials have argued over the past years that there are many financial, legal and logistical complexities to the situation. The nonpartisan Rio Grande Foundation of Albuquerque also produced a report that concludes that the issues with the Roswell Air Center are not primarily governance issues, but larger state and regional population, geographic and economic factors.

But Kunkel said that he is convinced that an authority would enable the Roswell Air Center to become a financially successful entity, rather than remain in its current situation of requiring about $1 million in city funds each year for its operations.