Study Sees Fullerton Airport as Not Attracting Development in Its Area

Jeff Rowe is a free-lance writer

Fullerton has the only general aviation airport in North Orange County, so city officials hoped the facility--with its 3,100-foot runway, hangars and service buildings--would be a magnet for commercial and industrial development in the surrounding area.

But a $45,000 study just completed by Lavanthol & Horwath, the Los Angeles-based real estate consulting and accounting company, says the 685-acre area that includes the airport and 84 acres in Buena Park has only limited potential for office and industrial development over the next five years or more.

And the mere existence of the airport is not expected to generate additional demand for industrial space, "given its historic role" as being of minor importance in the development of the area and given "the experience of other communities with general aviation airport facilities," the study suggests. Due in part to the lack of signs or other advertisements of the airport's location, the area lacks focus or "a unifying design theme," the study suggests.

"If the airport was a magnet, something already would be happening," Terry Galvin, Fullerton's redevelopment manager, said.

The areas of Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Irvine surrounding the county-owned John Wayne Airport blossomed into a huge commercial area after the airport was opened to commercial traffic--something that is unlikely to happen at Fullerton's relatively small airstrip.

'Surprising Conclusion

Still, the study "was a surprising conclusion to us," Galvin said.

He added that city officials "learned a lot from the study" but are "most disappointed that the West Fullerton area is not ready for any kind of serious upgrading."

The city commissioned the study, he said, because it thought the area containing the airport "hasn't come along as well as the rest of the city in attracting new business."

Although the study area is just a mile from the Santa Ana and Riverside freeways, it is considered "remote and isolated," the study says. The area within Fullerton is roughly bounded by Malvern Avenue on the north, the city boundary on the west, the Fullerton Creek Channel on the south and the Santa Fe Railroad right of way on the east. The Buena Park section is south of Malvern and west of the city boundary.

Citing a lack of identity and "chaotic" development around the airport, Lavanthol & Horwath conclude that other areas of the North County, particularly in Brea, Orange and Anaheim, will draw the bulk of the office development from now through 1990. After that, the West Fullerton area could begin to capture an increasing share of commercial and industrial projects.

Recommends Landscaping

The study recommends that the city institute landscaping and other improvements in the area to enhance its future appeal as a commercial and industrial site. "Public expenditures generally serve as an incentive to development," said Lori Campana, a manager of real estate advisory services at Lavanthol & Horwath.

But Fullerton's redevelopment agency plans to ask the City Council this afternoon not to proceed with the planning and implementation phases of the study, which would cost approximately $10,000.

"If the only thing that is feasible to do is landscaping, then we can do that," said Galvin, who questioned whether such expenditures would be cost-effective. Still, the city "probably" will figure out a way to upgrade the appearance of the airport, he said.

Although some city officials believe that the airport has been a plus in luring business to the area, the facility has limited potential for stimulating commercial and industrial activity, the study concludes, and the flight patterns and noise "will limit the type, intensity and location of potential new development."

Because of Brea's superior access to freeways, the "majority of new competitive office developments will continue to focus on" that city, the study says.

Noting a pattern of commercial development in the coastal portion of Orange County and manufacturing in the north, the study concludes that Brea "has emerged as an attractive alternative location for industry due to its proximity to the 57 Freeway, new housing and commercial development, as well as the availability of large parcels of developable land."

Demand for Shopping Center

There are, however, a few bright spots for Fullerton in the study, which suggests that there is a demand for a neighborhood shopping center at the southwest corner of Malvern Avenue and Gilbert Street. And a greater consistency of land uses in the future, particularly along Commonwealth Avenue, would enhance the area as a site for future development, the study says.

In a list of possible development options for the period after 1990, the study recommends that city officials consider an industrial and business park on vacant land to the north of the airport and expansion of commercial activities along Commonwealth Avenue, with an office and hotel complex in the center of the commercial area.

In its assessment of the airport area, the study anticipated no significant expansion of flight operations at the airport. The facility averages about 12,000 operations a month, which is down from 15,000 operations a month five years ago. Each take-off or landing is a separate flight operation.

About 20% to 30% of the 600 airplanes based at the airport are business-owned, according to Rod Murphy, airport manager, and there is a waiting list of about 150 planes.

There are five major fixed-base operators at the airport--businesses which typically offer flight lessons, rent and sell airplanes and repair aircraft. Construction of a hangar complex is expected to begin later this year on a recently acquired four-acre parcel on the southeast corner of the airport. A 4.8-acre plot on the southwest corner is proposed for acquisition and will be used for hangars, aircraft parking and airport-related businesses, city officials said. The property acquisitions are 90% funded by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Revenue from aircraft based at Fullerton and rental from the existing businesses brings the city about $700,000 a year, which meets the airport's $580,000 annual operating budget but does not leave enough to pay for all of the $200,000-a-year needed for services such as water, trash pickup, and police and fire protection.

For the 1986-1987 fiscal year, the city has budgeted an estimated $1.9 million in capital improvements for the airport, including the 4.8-acre southwest acquisition, a second new hangar complex on the southeast side and the paving of space for additional aircraft parking on the north side.

When both expansions are complete, the airport should become profitable, city officials predict.

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