Friday, February 18, 2011

City eyes ‘quantum leap’ at Friedman site

Redeveloped airport could include cultural institute, business park

Express Staff Writer

The 210-acre Friedman Memorial Airport site is wedged between the Big Wood River to the west, right, the Eccles’ Flying Hat Ranch to the south, top, and Woodside subdivision to the east, left.

With conclusions about both the feasibility and site of a new regional airport on the horizon, elected officials and stakeholders were urged Tuesday to make a "quantum leap" ahead for Hailey in redevelopment of the Friedman Memorial Airport site.

In a meeting at the airport Tuesday night, officials from Blaine County, the city of Hailey and the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority received their first briefing from consultants about that development. The 210-acre site sits at the southern entrance to Hailey and its redevelopment offers the city a rare chance to create a vibrant gateway to the area.

Implementation of any redevelopment plan in Hailey is dependent on the outcomes of two other studies currently under way—a financial feasibility analysis being prepared by Ricondo & Associates, and an environmental impact statement being done by Landrum & Brown under the Federal Aviation Administration's supervision. The conclusions of those studies, along with the redevelopment analysis, will help determine what development opportunities exist at Friedman.

There was a strong feeling among the 40 or so people at the meeting that the stated goal of maximizing revenue from the sale of the existing airport must be balanced against the long-term benefits the community can expect from its redevelopment. Maximizing immediate revenue could mean the appearance of a large-format retail store, like Target.

Officials considered large-format retail to be a nonstarter in relation to long-term community benefit, but expressed an interest in creating a retail core at the southern end of Hailey as a way to capture the lost business of people who shop elsewhere and as a convenience for Woodside residents.

With the proceeds from the sale of Friedman airport going toward construction of its replacement, two key issues for local leaders are the amount of revenue they can expect from the site's sale and when they can expect it. Consultants on Tuesday warned them not to expect a quick sale, saying they "cannot at this time recommend the sale of the entire site at once," considering the soft state of the national real estate market. Instead, a 10-year development horizon was presented as a realistic expectation, including the time it will take to rehabilitate the airport site before it is ready for sale.

That timeline, along with other market research about the Friedman site, will be considered by Ricondo & Associates in its financial feasibility analysis. Preliminary results of that work should be available in the next month.

It was also discussed that development of the Friedman site should not duplicate the offerings of downtown Hailey, but should instead bring a new kind of business to the city. Rather than shift civic offices to the site or create a retail center that mimics downtown, it was suggested the city could market part of the site as a corporate campus to companies like locally based Smith Optics or Marketron that would prefer to be headquartered in the Wood River Valley.

Other "campus-like" suggestions included the creation of a cultural institute similar to those in Aspen, Colo., and Santa Fe, N.M., a satellite university campus and even a proposal to move the Blaine Manor nursing facility to the site instead of a proposed site in Croy Canyon, west of Hailey.

One surprise from the evening was the general consensus in the crowd that no part of the redeveloped site should be residential, despite the recognition that affordable housing for moderate-income families in Hailey remains elusive. Attendees pointed out that the housing supply in Hailey is already saturated as a result of the recent plunge in real estate sales.

Currently, plans are in motion to relocate the airport to a larger site in southern Blaine County.

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