A set of concept designs shared exclusively with The Collegian showcase plans for a $3 to $8 million expansion for the Hillsdale Municipal Airport, including the additions of a restaurant, museum, and pilot shop.
“We want to get together some sponsors, donors, and aviation enthusiasts to help build and incorporate an educational element into this terminal,” Airport Manager Jason Walters said.”This is all an initiative to develop and design a terminal that is self-sufficient so it can be a lifetime building.”
The Hillsdale Municipal Airport is managed by Walters and his company Patriot Aviation, a relatively small organization, with five full and part-time employees. Despite only serving 1,000 to 1,500 landings and takeoffs a year, Walters said he is optimistic that he can fund the ambitious airport project with the help of sponsors to avoid dipping into public funds.
“The taxpayer dollars that go to this will be used strictly for service management and grant insurance compliance,” Walters said. “This is an out-of-the-box initiative to find a way to eliminate the burden on the taxpayers.”
Since becoming the airport manager last year, Walters said he has lead a series of improvements at the airport, including the renovation and remodeling of the existing terminal and securing $800,000 in funds from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to replace the existing parking area for aircraft. By hosting a Fly-In on September 11 for military helicopters and World War II-era planes, Walters helped to promote the airport’s presence in Hillsdale.
“These improvements will allow the airport to be better used to promote new business opportunities by improving transportation options,” City Manager David Mackie said. “Additionally, we’re hoping these improvements will entice others, who use the airport, to participate in the city’s plans to privately develop and maintain a new multi-use terminal.”
Most recently, the airport acquired a Cessna Skyhawk plane to use for flying lessons, costing $130 to $150 an hour.
But Walters said he wants to do more. While the addition of a restaurant and a museum to a rural airport may seem unusual, Walters said it will promote aviation in the community.
“Almost anyone that lives and breathes aviation will tell you the same thing. Promoting aviation involves promoting all aspects of it,” Walters said. “You inspire young, future pilots by getting them active and involved. It’s a Fly-In with Army, Black Hawk helicopters and a Chinook troop transport that is impressionable to that young child. When you look at museums, it’s all connected to that.”
The tentative plan according to Walters’ concept designs is to house two vintage planes in a spare hangar, one military plane and one transport or passenger plane.
“The museum will provide proof to the average person that aviation is right there and it’s achievable,” Walters said. “It will inspire, educate, and entertain. The appreciation for aviation grows when you have static displays to ponder and discuss.”
In addition to the museum, Walters said that the construction of a restaurant will not only be an appeal for more pilots to visit the airport, but that it will also bring people from the community to experience aviation.
“The concept for the restaurant is to put in a small diner-style restaurant in the terminal, which is popular for many other terminals,” Walters said. “Not only does it provide a reason for people to fly in, but it also gets people in the community involved so that they can see planes take off and land as they are eating.”
Walters said interested restaurant owners would be able to lease out the space, and all the serving and cooking equipment would be provided for their use. While Walters said the overall vision has received acclaim from city officials and local business owners, some residents are cautious.
Jeff King — a pilot and founder and former member of the Airport Advisory Committee to the Hillsdale City Council — said the vision for the terminal is impressive, but safety concerns should be foremost.
“I feel it’s a good vision and I’m glad that they have private sponsors to fund it, but I have ongoing concerns that the city cannot afford to properly maintain the airport,” King said. “As a pilot, what matters most to me is safety and usefulness of an airport.”
Constructing the whole vision as seen in the concept drawings would be great, Walters said, but he wants to prioritize the right aspects of the airport.
“Even if we don’t raise enough to build all of it, we intend to raise enough to build a terminal and educational components,” Walters said. “We would take away things that wouldn’t generate revenue or be a good return on investment.”