The chair of the Winnebago County Aviation Committee plans to introduce a resolution Wednesday to fund the construction of a taxiway at the proposed Aviation Business Park.
Robert Warnke, whose District 21 wraps around the north and east sides of Wittman Regional Airport, said his resolution would call for the county to move ahead with the project and later seek reimbursement from the state’s Bureau of Aeronautics.
Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris said the Bureau of Aeronautics will give a partial reimbursement if a tenant is willing to submit a written document stating the need for the taxiway.
“The Bureau of Aeronautics will give a partial reimbursement, but they want us to have a tenant that would be willing to submit in writing that they need a taxiway before they would do so,” Harris said. “The county probably has to go forth on their own expense, and then get a partial reimbursement from the Bureau of Aeronautics.”
Without a taxiway at Wittman Regional Airport Aviation Business Park, there is no commitment from the aviation industry.
Oshkosh Deputy Mayor Steve Herman said the county and city agreed to build an aviation industrial park where the city would cover the cost of infrastructure and the county would put in the taxiway.
“Winnebago County and the city of Oshkosh entered an agreement to build an aviation industrial park,” Herman said. “Our role was to do the infrastructure, the streets, the water, the sanitary sewers and storm sewers. The county, because their land bordered the airport, agreed to put in a taxiway.
Herman said that until the taxiway is put in, it will be tough to move forward.
“My biggest concern, for the last two years, is that the county has been pushing back the taxiway, and we’ve continued to do our due diligence putting in the infrastructure,” Herman said. “Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. is trying to sell lots in that park, but without the taxiway, they can’t get any commitments from the aviation industry.”
Harris said tenants need to see a taxiway before committing to a long-term lease.
“I think we need to have those taxiways in, for a tenant to commit to a long-term lease if their intention is to use the taxiway for take-offs and landings and then get back to their property,” Harris said. “They’ll need to see a taxiway before they commit to that.”
Harris also said that he anticipates support from the county Board of Supervisors for the taxiway.
According to Herman, the city has met its end of the agreement.
“I feel like we have done our end of the deal, and the county hasn’t done their end of the agreement,” Herman said. “They’ve had some issues. They need to replace the airport terminal, which is an important issue, but I also think that they have not made this a priority on their end.”
Allen Davis, city of Oshkosh community development director, said the total infrastructure cost to the city was $3.1 million, much of which came in the form of $1.3 million in grants from the Economic Development Administration.
According to Harris, even though there is no taxiway in place, a lot has been accomplished outside of that.
“I think a lot has been done,” Harris said. “Just getting sewer, water, streets, electricity, all of those in with no additional cost to the county or the city other than the participation and the tax increment financing, that’s accomplishing a great deal already, but I would really like to see us getting some businesses in there,”
Audra Hoy, director of business and economic development for GO-EDC, said the partnership between the city and the county to purchase the land had never been done before.
Hoy said the long-term goal is to have airport accessible businesses and businesses who don’t need constant access to the taxiway under one aviation umbrella.
“Our long-term thought was always to have airport accessible businesses, maintenance repair and overhaul shops, aircraft manufacturers, on the closer side to the airport,” Hoy said. “Then the east side would be those supporting the industry.”
Hoy also said without a solid timeline for development, businesses are going to be reluctant to set up here.
“There are people who are interested in being in Oshkosh because we’re the home of general aviation, and they want to set up their businesses here,” Hoy said. “Being airport accessible is critical to their success. Without a solid timeline for development, businesses are going to be a little soft on making that move because they want to make sure that they can function, and I think we’re on that path to development.”
According to Hoy, it is important to GO-EDC for the aviation park to succeed.
“We all want to see this succeed, we have an amazing airport, with amazing tenants here, and we really have something to be proud of in this community, so we all want to see it succeed.” Hoy said.
Hoy also said that recent turnover at the airport may slow down the timeline. But Harris said that it is his hope to have the taxiway voted on by early 2018.
Herman said that he doesn’t think it will be an issue to get the grant for reimbursement.
“They have gotten a ton of grants at Wittmann in the past to build runways, so I would think they would be able to get the grant.” Herman said.
Jason White, GO-EDC president and CEO, said that without the taxiway, Oshkosh won’t have any kind of competitive advantage over other aviation parks.
“A lot of people come here for aviation every year, but people aren’t necessarily coming here with the idea of locating a business here,” White said. “If we don’t have that asset well established, then there are other aviation parks out there that are more built out and that do have more aviation companies than we have year round.”
Photo shows a rendering of the Aviation Business Park, courtesy of Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp.