Mock-up of the pro­posed Hillsdale Municipal Airport ter­minal. Jason Walters | Courtesy

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.”

Mock-up of the pro­posed Hillsdale Municipal Airport ter­minal. Jason Walters | Courtesy

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.

The overall floor plan of the expansion concept. Jason Walters | Courtesy

“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.”

First floor design plan including a restaurant and pilot shop. Jason Walters | Courtesy

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.”

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Thomas Novelly
Collegian Editor-in-Chief, Thomas Novelly was born in Novi, Michigan, but was raised in Franklin, Tennessee, making him a self-proclaimed "Yankee gone South." Thomas began writing for The Collegian as a sophomore, and since has served as a reporter, columnist, and Assistant City News Editor. He has also worked for two major publications, interning at the Washington Free Beacon in D.C. and The Tennessean in Nashville. His work has been seen in National publications such as CBS News, National Review Online, Stars And Stripes, and USA Today. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
  • Tyler Groe­nendal

    How, exactly, will this promote “new business oppor­tu­nities”?

    • Ellsworth_Toohey

      Build it and they will come Tyler. Build it and they will come. Build it and they will come.

      • Tyler Groe­nendal

        - Hillsdale City Gov­ernment, re: The Dawn Theater, Keefer House

        • Stephen French

          Because status quo was working so well with those prop­erties

          • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

            Actually it was. They brought in 4k in taxes a year, from a real cash value of 200k com­bined. Paying 100% premium for a failed business and a hotel that needs $3M+ just to open, perhaps getting cus­tomers 4 – 6 weekends a year, TIFA can’t turn a profit on that, and the city just lost $4k a year.

          • Stephen French

            That’s exactly the problem. To accept the premise that the building will remain vacant and only provide $4k in annual property taxes is the issue. In addition, the hotel study will tell TIFA and future investors if a hotel would be prof­itable at that location…if not, then the city can market the prop­erties to other types of investment oppor­tu­nities. TIFA was never intended to be the man­aging entity of a hotel or any other business at that location…only a conduit to peak rede­vel­opment interest in the prop­erties.

          • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

            Ok, let’s recap.

            The under­ground gets help, and closes, folks out of work, and any revenue other than property tax asso­ciated there is also gone now. The under­ground being a more recently ren­o­vated space, although smaller than the dawn, but don’t have accurate capacity for either, just seemed that way.

            Dawn, hadn’t really been open in years. No buyers on the horizon while in private hands, needs a heavy reno, and bought at 100% over market value. So, TIFA has a line of buyers clam­oring to buy it and pay 200k+ for it, then put another 500k in at least to bring it up to a rea­sonable standard for per­for­mances or movies? Somebody did check what a com­mercial pro­jector costs right? I’m guessing no, because the building would be worth less than the pro­jector, and sound system. Think Pinto with a 2k radio, amps, and speakers in it, that’s how out­landish that idea is.

            Keefer, where to start. Another 100k building needing 3M in reno work. Can’t say I saw one thing happen there in all the years in town. Not to say some­thing didn’t happen there, just never heard or saw it. Com­peting with Days Inn, who basi­cally sets the price for non-peak days, You’re getting $70 a night, lets be gen­erous, make it $100 a night. To make back 3M, at 100 a night, that’s 30k room nights at 100% profit, but average hotel margins are 6%, so that 30k room night break even is really 500k. Now how long is that in real days. Well, I’m going to be lazy and say there are 50 rooms, down to 10k nights at 100% occu­pancy. That’s 27 years full 100% every night. With no reno costs in that time. I’m not an econ­omist, but I can see there is no way to make money on that project. But let’s keep going and host a wedding or major event every weekend, better yet lets double up 2 a weekend, and charge 20k an event (who in town can afford that every weekend, I don’t know TIFA?) At an improved margin of 10%, that brings in an addi­tional 210k, cutting our payback time down to only 10 years, so much better chance of getting someone on the hook for that deal than the 27 year one.

            Come on, how can anyone take this sit­u­ation seri­ously? Recap, 2 defunct event venues one of which needs a lot of work, another just closed. Hotel that under insanely opti­mistic pro­jec­tions breaks even in 10 years. The city is going to see that 400k back when?

          • Stephen French

            I think your ren­o­vation expenses and esti­mates are laughable. Anyway, at least the city is attempting to rehab those prop­erties instead of watching them rot into them­selves

          • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

            42 Union, 8 apart­ments, $785k grant for a building far newer and with semi-modern con­struction already. Sad you didn’t do your homework before buying the two. Hotel ren­o­vation costs are fairly easy to find, Dow center needed $35k a room, without needing to update the building itself, remove asbestos, new well every­thing. Just at 35k, 50 rooms, 1.75M, how far off is that 3M number now? Common areas, ball­rooms, ele­vators, all the service infra­structure that doesn’t exist, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, enter­tainment infra­structure, com­mercial kitchen. I may have under­es­ti­mated at 3M.

            So the city is better at ren­o­vation than private busi­nesses? I have to believe that if Broad Street could have made it work, they would have, but even the modest budget they used on the remodel look where it ended up. Now the city wants to try too? I guess when it’s monopoly money, spend away. I know the next 4100 pot­holes I find will be named Dawn and Keefer.

          • Ellsworth_Toohey

            Looks like you are scaring them away with logic and common sense. Too bad they are scaring off business growth.

          • Tyler Groe­nendal

            Game, set, match. Excel­lently said on all counts.

          • Ellsworth_Toohey

            You do realize a legit­imate private sector business would have com­pleted the ‘hotel study’ before the check was signed?


  • I’m not so sure about the restaurant or museum aspects… I don’t see the demand or draw existing for either one. But the pilot shop is a good idea, and we def­i­nitely need ter­minal facil­ities, because what we’ve got now ain’t cuttin’ it. The fact that this would be funded pri­vately apart from the regular oper­ation and func­tions of the airport is also a big plus. We need far more of that here in Hillsdale. And I LOVE the art deco design. I just love art deco in general, espe­cially sur­rounding avi­ation and trans­portation.

  • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

    Totally missing the value of an air museum. Kzoo Air Zoo 90 minutes away. This will be an ongoing lia­bility, not an asset. Nobody, and I mean nobody would come here to look at 2 planes of generic back­ground. No way you would get 2 sig­nif­icant planes put in there. Is it a nice 2 minute time killer for pas­sengers waiting either for a flight plan to get filed or while filling up the plane, sure, but the costs asso­ciated don’t justify it.

    • Ellsworth_Toohey

      My exact thought after thinking about it. Also the placement of the Museum hangar is a total waste.… even at the air zoo they don’t take up primary apron space with a museum hangar. Fed­erally funded con­crete is expensive.

      Having people who have an actual back­ground in avi­ation involved in this project would be helpful.…. just saying.

  • Ellsworth_Toohey

    If you’re looking for actual input from the pilot com­munity, the covered walkway is a massive waste of apron space. Instead just extend the awning from the ter­minal building. That is how most ter­minals do it that offer that feature.

    I like the Art Deco Look.

    The large museum air­craft, just park them on the grass next to the hangar. Hangar space is too valuable to waste.

    Restaurant.… it’s not going to work with only 4 tables. Instead convert the existing ter­minal to a restaurant.

    • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

      Seen a covered apron before, look up KEDC, but the entire AC fits under and pulls through. As shown, someone forgot planes don’t have a great reverse, and the roof is not nearly wide enough to get wingtips towards the center, so half the plane is under.

      As for the food, that had better be 5 star food, or killer BBQ, remem­bering that oper­ating costs are part of the meal cost, flying from just 30 minutes away, that’s a $150+ meal before you even sit down to eat. With in town places folding fairly reg­u­larly, novelty only gets you there once.

      • Ellsworth_Toohey

        Like at bottom?

        They have one like that in Gary Indiana also.

        I was thinking more of a overhang with some I-beams to support it. Not going to keep the entire plane dry, but if taxi with the pas­senger door facing the ter­minal it would min­imize things.

        I looked at the scale, and if it’s accurate, there are some serious scaling issues in the drawing. The lunch counter is about 1 foot wide. The DC-3 looking twin engine air­planes have 34 foot wingspans and the hangar’s are 50 x 50

        • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

          That’s KEDC in the we’re open picture. For scale, a G5 fits in about 3/4 the width.

          In the plans shown, the overhang is about 20 feet tops. For scale, a Cessna 172 would need about 20 feet to get one side door under the shelter, to still be able to pull out, without needing a pushback.

      • Ellsworth_Toohey

        I haven’t quite found what I am looking for, but more like this below. It helps the archi­tecture if it blends into the building. That way the air­craft can approach it from either direction to dis­charge pas­sengers and no tug is needed to back it away from the structure.

      • Mike Connor

        So it’s a $150 hour to operate. You already no that since you must be a plane owner. If you could not afford that you would probably sell you plane. They are trying to make some­thing nice and it appears to me these are just pre­lim­inary drawings that are subject to change. Instead of bashing them wait and see how it turns out. Maybe it will be a regular stop someday.

        • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

          In the long list of things the city needs:
          New firetruck
          Fully staffed police and fire depart­ments
          Sewer plant backup gen­er­ators
          Gen­er­ators at Baw Beese back in workable con­dition
          Roads repaved
          Blight property removed
          Empty indus­trial buildings/capacity filled
          Internet access speeds improved
          Roads repaved again
          Selling Dawn and Keefer
          Building a diner at the airport

          It’s pretty far down the pri­ority list for anyone but a very small number of people. The good thing is it is private money, but that will most cer­tainly turn into a grant request, so it looks like private money, but the locals end up paying for it in the end.

          • Ellsworth_Toohey

            It’s not all private money. It starts with the $800K from the state of Michigan and whatever else the city needs to match for the 2nd apron.

            And heavy duty grant requests have already been dis­cussed for this project, just not brought out in the article.

            The rest you are spot on about.

          • Ellsworth_Toohey

            Took less than 2 months for your pre­diction to come true. The $800K apron, turned into a pumpkin. Bids came back at $1.1 million and the city is cov­ering the extra.

        • Ellsworth_Toohey

          Mr. Connor:

          The city’s budget recently came out. The city allo­cated $7000 for the airport for main­te­nance. As you appear to be a pilot, can you tell me if that is ade­quate for a airport of this size and facil­ities age?

          And if it isn’t (it isn’t) how do you *keep* some­thing nice if you can’t afford the upkeep?

          In the real estate business they call that “house poor”. This city has been “airport poor” for decades now. And are you aware that a pilot died at this airport in 2012, in part because the city wasn’t main­taining safety aids?

          Hopes and dreams are nice, but not with the tax­payers money.

          • Mike Connor

            I am a pilot not an airport manager. I don’t have access to the records for bud­geting at Hillsdale Airport. I have been around that airport on and off for around 15 years. I hon­estly don’t remember someone dying at that airport in 2012. I would be inter­ested in seeing that infor­mation you are referring to.

          • Ellsworth_Toohey

            I was the founding member of the airport advisory com­mittee. I’m not talking about Patriot Avi­ation, I’m talking about the city’s funding of the main­te­nance budget.

          • Mike Connor

            Under­stood. I agree safety is number one at any airport for sure.

          • Ellsworth_Toohey

            Mike, that was me inter­viewed in the story. I’m an active pilot who used to use the airport on a regular basis until I relo­cated. I own my own air­plane… in fact I have two now, use them for my business.

          • Mike Connor

            Okay I looked up the accident. I just didn’t remember. I have landed at many air­ports at night without the aid of papi lights. While they are helpful some air­ports do not have them. The airport papi lights not working did not cause the crash as there were several other factors involved. In general if you are not current in your night flying skills and the weather is mar­ginal you should maybe rethink your flight or go some­where where the vis­i­bility is better for your skill level. I did not know the gen­tleman who passed in this accident and so I will not comment on his abil­ities as a pilot. Unfor­tunate.

          • Ellsworth_Toohey

            Hi Mike:

            We may have meet once. I was a tenant at the airport since 2003. Housed 3 dif­ferent air­planes at the airport. Told at one time I was the biggest cus­tomer of AvGas. Was the AOPA ASN for the airport. Founder and first chair of the airport com­mittee. The budget is available at the city website.

            I’m sur­prised you didn’t hear about it, the death was well known and James posted more than one memorial notice. The pilot was James Avery and I under­stand he was a regular attendee of the Sat­urday morning meetings.


            I landed 15 minutes before Mr. Avery died. It was a hazy summer evening. I used runway 10 because I knew the PAPI’s were out of service and had been for over a year. If you are a pilot your well aware how dan­gerous the lack of visual ref­er­ences are on such a evening. That is why I landed on 10 that night, because the lights of the city pro­vided such a ref­erence. Such didnt’ exist on 28 which is over farmland. I was asked by the NTSB to par­tic­ipate in the inves­ti­gation

            I never said the PAPI not working caused the accident. The NTSB said the failure to maintain the PAPI con­tributed to the accident. Acci­dents are rarely one factor. But if you’ve ever flown the 28 approach on a hazy summer evening, those 4 red balls get your attention.

            If the city had properly main­tained the PAPI’s Mr. Avery may well have still be alive today.

            That’s in the past of course, but the present airport manager has had to beg the city manager for funds for basic main­te­nance.

          • Mike Connor

            We may have met but I can’t be sure. And I’m also not trying to argue with you on any­thing about this airport. After reading the accident report it came back to me when it hap­pened. It’s my hope that the airport can be a thriving business someday and stopover for some and really that’s about it. Safe travels.

          • Ellsworth_Toohey

            Not trying to argue with you, I was just there and have been a actual user of the airport, that is the runway and nav­i­gation aids. That’s the purpose of a airport, to allow air­planes to land and takeoff safely. Hanging out or it’s business devel­opment is sec­ondary to that.

  • One crit­icism I would add about the aes­thetics of the design, and I thought about this the more I looked at the pic­tures: the “Hillsdale Municipal Airport” sign needs to be changed. Having it broken up on the hor­i­zontal axis so that “Municipal” sits out on the awning while “Hillsdale” and “Airport” sit back against the building looks ridiculous. Instead, “Hillsdale Municipal Airport” should be let­tered across the front of the awning in black alu­minum with shaped LED back­lighting sim­u­lating neon, a la this classic art deco signage.

    • Ellsworth_Toohey

      I like it.

      But of course you are under the pre­sumption the city is lis­tening to the cit­izens or input from users of the airport. Not even the cities own airport advisory com­mittee saw these drawings in their entirety before they were released to the Col­legian.

  • Marcy Almay

    Just think, this com­munity can always look at this mul­ti­million dollar ter­minal and think “wow, an armed hostage taking thief designed that!” Bet Walter’s victim that he never apol­o­gized to for holding her hostage and getting her beaten on, leaving her trau­ma­tized for her whole life probably really enjoys this great plan he was allowed to make without a BID PROCESS involved. Get a clue you guys ANYONE could design buildings created with other people’s mil­lions, but since tax­payer mil­lions are involved, why didn’t the city council or mayor or city manager or even city attorney Marcoux Allen’s “of counsel” John Lovinger post a bond to assure that money wouldn’t be stolen, that no one would harmed or trau­ma­tized by this guy running the show with full autonomy? Curious, isn’t it? His lack of remorse toward his VICTIM shows me a lot about who Walters is today, what he did back then? He should be living a quiet life, ashamed of himself, not going into the public sector then cre­ating compete wars of words with the public and making the city offi­cials look like rather fright­ening people for hiring a man who, if leg­islative intent had been adhered to, would still be in PRISON today. Lucky him, right? He forgave himself, and moved forward in a way that the victim of his crime never could or will and has every public official’s clear endorsement of him being “reformed” after wrecking a human being’s entire life. Not a bad deal. I haven’t kept up on things, how are the inter­views for airport manager going? Is the parole office CROWDED with appli­cants?