Republic boosts airport rebuilding effort
Keeping Republic Airways at General Mitchell International Airport is only one step toward stemming the flow of jobs from the Milwaukee airfield.
Three hundred and forty full-time military personnel and more than 1,300 reservists stopped working on a 102-acre corner of the airport property in February 2008 when the 440th Air Reserve Base shut down. The property still is empty, and the effort to attract new aviation companies to the land is just beginning.
“Our real goal here is to bring back some jobs, create some jobs and generate revenue,” said Ted Torcivia, GMIA business manager.
The airport, Milwaukee County and city officials have been planning to redevelop the reserve base by luring in companies that complement airport or airline operations. The plan has been in the works since the Air Reserve announced the base closure in 2005.
Skywest Airlines Inc., St. George, Utah, this fall agreed to lease the largest hangar on the air base from Milwaukee County. The county is sifting through proposals it received last month from consultants interested in marketing, leasing and managing the property.
People who are trying to encourage new development around General Mitchell consider Republic Airways a strong magnet for new business.
Republic, which bought Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines on July 31, on Tuesday announced plans to establish a maintenance hub at General Mitchell, retain 800 jobs in Milwaukee and create up to 800 more jobs.
Getting more jobs through Republic will fill a hole created when Midwest started cutting its work force and the number of flights from the airport, said Christopher Larson, Milwaukee County Board supervisor. The 440th land could be an opportunity to build on that success, he said.
“Obviously, this helps with that opportunity that we do have space available,” Larson said.
Businesses gravitate toward places with good access to transportation hubs, said Zach Brandon, senior policy director for the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. The increased number of flights Republic will send through the airport will attract businesses that aren’t even directly tied to airlines, he said.
Torcivia said it’s too early to know how Republic’s business at the airport will affect the redevelopment of the 440th land. The site has some difficulties, he said, such as military buildings that cannot be used for airport businesses. The Air Reserve built one tower in the complex just to hang parachutes out to dry.
“It’s basically a former military base,” he said, “so if you look at it from a real estate standpoint, it doesn’t have great visibility, so we will have to work on that.”
But the land also has advantages because it is so close to the airport, Torcivia said. County officials plan to lease the land for between $7 and $12 per square foot.
Milwaukee County was expecting to gain control of the land from the U.S. Department of Defense in September, but the transfer was delayed and won’t happen until Feb. 1, Torcivia said. The real push to get new businesses on the property will begin after the county takes over, he said.
“We’re patiently waiting,” he said, “for the base to transfer through.”