Oct. 14--Two major projects are about to get under way at Riverside Municipal Airport that could help the city land on the radar of corporations and business executives.
Next month, a private developer, Riverside Aviation One, plans to break ground on the first of 125 hangars. The partnership will spend $20 million to build the 300,000-square-foot project on 18 acres of city-owned land at the north end of the field.
Half of the hangars likely will be leased or sold to companies that use small jets for business travel; the rest will go to individual pilots, said Orange County housing developer Tom Falcon, one of the partners in Riverside Aviation One.
"It's hard to get hangar space in any of the airports in Southern California," Falcon said, adding that 19 of his hangars are already spoken for. "There is a real shortage."
The airport, owned and operated by the city of Riverside, plans to spend $4.1 million in federal grant money upgrading its main runway to accommodate large corporate jets, said airport director Mark Ripley.
"These projects will help us create a package that is more attractive to corporate operators," said Ripley, who took the job Aug. 21 after five years at Glendale Municipal Airport in Arizona. "We want it to be a marketing component for the city for businesses looking to expand or relocate."
Runway construction should also begin in November and be finished this spring.
The changes will be welcomed by some of the airport's existing business fliers.
"Riverside has great potential, but it is underutilized," said Dale Griffin, president of Corona-based homebuilder Griffin Communities. A pilot for 40 years, Griffin has two planes, a nine-seat Beechcraft King Air and a Cessna 414, with room for six.
"It needs to be spruced up if you want to attract business travelers," added Bob Patison, executive vice president of Lucas Oil, also based in Corona.
"It is conveniently located but hasn't been kept up to date with other airports," he said. Lucas Oil keeps an eight-seat Citation Bravo at Riverside Municipal, which it uses for travel to other company offices, trade shows and auto racing events.
Both executives said they will get new hangars once they are built.
Falcon also plans to open a franchise for Million Air, a Houston company that provides fueling, maintenance, catering and conference rooms, as well as charter service and other amenities that business fliers need at airports around the country.
If he does, it will compete with Zenith Flight Support, an existing "fixed base operator" already providing some of these services at Riverside Municipal.
But Zacharij Greenfield, who runs Zenith, said he isn't worried about competition because he already works with most of the companies and pilots at the airport, including Lucas Oil, Griffin Communities and Riverside-based Johnson Machinery.
"If they can get 100 more planes in here, that would be great," he said about the hangar project. "The more planes they have, the more problems for me to fix."
Greenfield, who has 14 employees and took over at Zenith a year ago, said he has spent considerable time and money upgrading services there.
Some new planes may come from Rialto Airport, which is closing, but most will come from the Inland area and Orange County, where pilots can't find hangar space.
"We have a waiting list of over 100 people," said Corona Municipal Airport director Richard Brodeur. "Most airports would welcome the addition."
Falcon discovered there was a need for more hangars about five years ago when he was looking for a place to keep his Cessna 340.
He ended up finding space in Riverside and decided to investigate the idea of building more hangars there. The project, which was conceived in 2002, will be the first hangars built by Falcon and business partner Ken Ruby.
Ranging in price from $91,000 to $400,000, the hangars will be equipped with electric doors; some will have two doors, so it will be easier for planes to taxi in and out.
The project, as well as the conference center, could attract companies from all over the Los Angeles area, said Riverside assistant city manager Michael Beck.
"We need to have a viable airport to support executives who will be flying in and out of the area," he said.
Griffin, who frequently travels to other cities on business, said an airport's facilities affect how a business thinks about a particular city.
"You want to be able to get in, have your meeting, see what you need to see and get home in time for dinner," he said.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.