Atlantic County officials are preparing to build a $4.5 million hangar at the Atlantic City International Airport, if negotiations succeed to bring a charter plane maintenance and repair operation.
It would require financing through the Atlantic County Improvement Authority, said County Executive Dennis Levinson, with the debt guaranteed by the county.
The South Jersey Transportation Authority Thursday approved a resolution directing Executive Director Stephen Dougherty to negotiate a ground lease for the project with the ACIA, as a way of fostering economic development in the area.
A similar arrangement was used to construct the first building of the National Aviation Research and Technology Park at the airport. It is now fully leased.
But the hangar will only be built once an agreement is reached with the company, Levinson said. And it will require support from county freeholders.
The 22,500-square-foot hangar would be built between existing Hangar 1 and Hangar 2, on land already deemed developable in the Federal Aviation Administration's Master Plan, according to the resolution. If negotiations are success the project would create a 125 jobs, officials said.
The county has been trying to increase use of the airport as a way of diversifying the economy. A 2015 report by consultant AngelouEconomics identified the aviation industry as the region's best bet for bringing good paying jobs to the area.
There was no discussion of the project at the SJTA meeting, but afterward Levinson said the project is his main priority.
"We are on the cusp of something amazing that is going to change the whole dynamics of this county," Levinson said.
He said county officials are working with the Atlantic County Economic Alliance to bring the plan to fruition, but the financing of the hangar through the ACIA will require support of county freeholders.
"We are going to do everything we can to encourage it," Levinson said.
He said the company wants to locate here, but has not "signed on the dotted line yet."
Economic Alliance Executive Director Lauren Moore said it is the first maintenance and repair operation to be targeted by a coalition of county government, the SJTA, and the alliance to help diversity the economy.
"It will bring in 125 jobs in three-and-a-half years, and pushing 200 jobs in over five years," Moore said.
He said the company is a high-level charter company that services artists, musicians and professional sports teams.
"They would do maintenance here, and as the project matures for them, they may want to start commercial flights as well out of ACY," Moore said.
Moore said he came back to work in Atlantic County after 20 years in Trenton because of the county's commitment to make projects happen, and willingness to fund them.
"It will complement the aviation technical school we want to develop out of the airport as well," Moore said. "And it's right on the back of the momentum of our technical park."
Levinson said the company would bring in three Airbus A320s, two Embraer 145s, pilots, mechanics, flight attendants and support personnel.
"They would come here and be part of the fabric of the community, spend money buying housing, sending kids to school," Levinson said. "It would be a big plus for us."
The ACIA would issue bonds and lease payments would pay them off, Levinson said.
"If it's done the way I want it to get done it shouldn't cost taxpayers two cents," he said.
Atlantic County would guarantee the debt, and he would need freeholder support.
Atlantic County Freeholder Director Amy Gatto said she believed the freeholders would support the initiative, since it's in line with the county's overall strategy to create an aviation hub at the airport.
"We are looking forward to additional details at a future freeholder meeting," Gatto said.
Levinson said the county has a strong financial position, with low debt service and the ability to move quickly.
"We can’t wait for the state," Levinson said. "Their bond rating is not as good as ours."