Braden Airpark in Forks Township can be saved and made financially self-sufficient under a recommended $2.7 million interim plan presented Tuesday night to the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority.
Officials said the key to the 10-year plan’s success is leasing 13 acres of the airport for retail use, which will require changes to the zoning law in Forks Township. Rezoned land leased for retail use — six acres north of the airport and seven acres to its south — would eventually support new hangars, a new 1,800-square-foot terminal, rehabilitation of the runway and installation of security fencing around the airport.
Braden Airpark, on 74 acres along Sullivan Trail, is the only general aviation airport in Northampton County; it is used by about 30 small, single-engine aircraft. The Braden Airpark proposal, recommended by staff and consultant Frank Kulka, would allow the authority to focus on other long-term development initiatives.
The plan described by Kulka outweighed other considerations in which development costs surpassed potential revenue.
Other scenarios researched by authority staff came down to maintaining the status quo and watching Braden lose about $145,000 annually or selling the property for $7 million and concentrating on development of the Lehigh Valley International Airport. Braden is appraised at $15 million, but grant agreements with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation would mean the state would receive half the sales price.
The recommended plan, with the leased land, would generate about $3.5 million over 10 years and can be executed right away, even with the authority’s tight budget, Kulka said.
Still, everything will depend on a successful rezoning of the land to obtain the needed cash flow to make the improvements at the airport, Kulka said.
J. Michael Dowd, chairman of the Airport Authority, agreed, saying that a successful rezoning “becomes the key question.” He said that Forks Township has been restrictive in its land use around Braden Airpark but might be open to considering low-rise structures.
The authority may take action on a resolution to move forward on the recommendation at its October meeting.
“We’ve got some hope here,” Kulka said.