Lehigh Valley

Airport authority solidifying support for Braden

Authority board to consider resolution committing to airpark's long-term future

FORKS TWP., Pa. - Michael Dowd recognizes that resolutions are only as good as the governmental body that supports them at the time.

But the chairman of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority board said a formal resolution committing the authority to Braden Airpark's future still sends an important message.

"For the first time, we're saying formally that we want to keep it open," Dowd said standing inside a hangar at the Forks Township airport.

The board's executive committee on Wednesday passed a resolution onto the full board for consideration that commits the authority to investing in Braden and opening authority-owned property to private development.

The full board will consider the resolution during its monthly meeting next week at Lehigh Valley International Airport.

The authority proposes making a more than $2 million investment in the small airport off Sullivan Trail. But key to that investment and ending an estimated $50,000 annual operating deficit is opening at least 13 acres at either end of Braden to private development. And there's another 33 acres available to the west of the property, which presents a slightly greater challenge due to access issues.

The smaller parcels front Sullivan Trail, offering much easier access.

The executive committee in August initially reviewed a series of options for Braden. The option recommended by authority staff represents the least amount of up-front cost and the least difficult option to implement.

The airport authority signaled 18 months ago that it wanted to keep Braden open, and Forks Township and Northampton County have made it clear each sees the airport as an asset, Dowd said. A resolution only signals what a governing body would like to do and is subject to change at the behest of another board, he said.

But the resolution commits to paper the authority's commitment as it opens talks with the township and county about their future roles in Braden, Dowd said.

Private development will require zoning changes, and county officials will be approached in the coming weeks about a possible financial commitment toward necessary infrastructure improvements at Braden, Dowd said.

"A resolution is a resolution, but it's still a statement to the world as to what we intend to do," said Glenn Geissinger, a board member and Northampton County council member.

Executive Director Charles Everett said the airport authority can get a head start on its list of capital priorities at Braden with funding from Northampton County.

The authority is prepared to release a request for qualifications from potential developers within roughly the next 30 days, Everett said. And he said he's confident in responses having received two "formal expressions of interest" in Braden so far this year.

Members of the executive committee debated the resolution, parsing the language in the one-page document and what the authority meant to convey.

MAP: Braden Airpark

Board member Ted Rosenberger questioned whether the resolution should include a specific timeframe for the authority's commitment to Braden. If a prospective business is looking to make a capital investment, they'd want to know how long the authority is committed to the facility, he said.

Board vice chairman William Berger countered that the proposed resolution was definitive enough in its commitment to keep Braden open and maintaining it.

The greatest point of debate centered on whether the resolution should include reference to the development option supported by authority staff. Board Treasurer Dean Browning, who ultimately voted down the resolution, argued it should be removed because the authority could later change its direction.

As was the case when the Braden options were initially discussed, there was also brief debate Wednesday about whether the authority should market the developable land as separate parcels or one large piece that could be more attractive to developers.

Committee members ultimately decided to keep Braden efforts moving forward with a resolution that keeps the authority's options open, allowing the market to dictate development of the property.

Business Development Director Darren Betters said the authority is ready to release a request for qualifications for more than 200 acres at Lehigh Valley International Airport that officials are looking to lease for private development. He asked whether the board would like to see the Braden and LVIA requests be released together as one development proposal.

The two properties represent very different projects that will attract very different developers and should be released separately, Berger said. Committee members agreed, and Everett said the request for qualifications for the Airport Road property will be released in a week or two.

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