May 3, 2013
Reporter- Jacksonville Business Journal
A 150-acre lot cleared of its trees signals new construction will soon come to Cecil Airport on Jacksonville's Westside. It's also evidence of a steady-growing success that's made airport expansion necessary.
"We're getting it ready because it's a lot easier to market than if you just showed a piece of land with trees on it and said, 'Imagine what it can be,'" said Bob Simpson, chief of Cecil Airport.
The reasons behind the success at Cecil, today home to military aircraft, commercial airplane maintenance facilities and major aerospace firms such as Boeing (NYSE: BA) and Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC), stretch back to groundwork laid more than a decade ago. The former naval air station was closed in 1999 and the land was deeded to the city and the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.
"It really was a matter of good vision," Simpson said. "The base reuse commission protected the land surrounding the airfield from incompatible land use. It's either zoned industrial, commercial, or it's our property."
Some members of the commission suggested making money by selling land east of the airport for residential housing, Simpson said. But the idea was defeated by other board members who felt doing so would put the airport's fate in jeopardy.
Instead, to the north and west of Cecil Airport lies the city-owned Cecil Commerce Center, zoned for industrial development. To the south, land was placed in preservation. To the east, the JAA has planned aviation-related development and beyond that, shopping centers and mixed-use development.
Besides securing a good land-use plan, Cecil Airport benefited from JAA steadily rebuilding its infrastructure. By 2003, every office building and hangar inherited from the U.S. Navy had been rehabilitated and rented.
Between 2004 and 2012, JAA built five new hangars, increasing the total built footprint by 30 percent. This month the JAA will open a sixth hangar, leased to KCI Aviation, a West Virginia company that repairs business jets and turboprops. And it will break ground on a 150,000-square-foot hangar and office facility for Flightstar Aircraft Services Inc., a company that maintains, repairs and overhauls commercial aircraft.
The land use plan, JAA's reinvestment in infrastructure, and a local workforce trained for aviation have attracted companies and helped them thrive.
Boeing's workforce has grown from 150 to 350 since coming to Cecil. Flightstar began with nine employees and has grown to almost 900. The company will add 350 when its new hangar is finished.
Tim Bergin, Flightstar's vice president of business development, said Cecil's long runway and absence of congestion make it a good fit for the company.
"You don't have to worry about security issues. Our customers get a security card, but otherwise, they're free to walk back and forth on the airport," he said.
Cecil Airport already benefits from a location that lies within 10 miles of interstate highways 10 and 295. Going forward, those logistics will improve. The airport's eastern border lies along the First Coast Outer Beltway, a proposed 4-lane toll highway that will one day connect I-10 to St. Augustine.
That should better connect Cecil Airport businesses and customers. Bergin sees an advantage for employees as well.
Cecil Airport Tenants/Employees
Engility/L-3 Comm.- 16 Employees
Fleet Readiness Center Southeast- 110 Employees
Flightstar Aircraft Services - 850 Employees
Florida Army National Guard-Drill - 680 Employees
Florida Army National Guard-Full-Time - 220 Employees
Florida State College at Jacksonville Students - 300 Students
Florida State College at Jacksonville-Full-time - 37 Employees
Jacksonville Aviation Authority - 14 Employees
Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department - 15 Employees
Jacksonville JetPort - 26 Employees
Lockheed Martin - 89 Employees
LSI - 366 Employees
RVA - 7 Employees
State Division of Forestry - 2 Employees
The Boeing Co. - 300 Employees
U. S. Customs and Border Protection - 181 Employees
U.S. Coast Guard - 226 Employees
Woods Group, Pratt & Whitney - 5 Employees
Source: Jacksonville Aviation Authority