Despite protests from the mayor, the Queen City Airport in Allentown is not being put up for sale and Charles R. Everett Jr., airport general manager for the Airport Authority, said it likely never will be.
The authority voted Tuesday to deny Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski's request to close and sell the property for commercial use. Pawlowski is a member of the board of governors of the authority.
Everett said that while many members of the board, and some members of the public, have expressed opposition to the sale, he said a July 12 letter from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made it clear that the regulatory hurdles the sale would have to go through would make it undoable.
“This is certainly not a viable option at this time,” said Everett.
Pawlowski said that the sale of the 209-acre tract, nearby Route 78, could generate as much as $30 million for the cash-strapped authority.
He told Lehigh Valley Business he thought the authority's decision was “very shortsighted.” “It's the most valuable asset that we have. To me it's unfathomable to take it off the table at this time,” he said.
The authority could use an infusion of funds to finance major capital improvement projects that are needed and to cover $16 million worth of legal fees the authority is faced with after losing a lawsuit to a land developer.
However, Everett said the sale of the property, which he said would mean additional costs and could take three to five years to complete, would not help ease the authority's immediate revenue needs. While the board's vote was nearly unanimous at 13-1, Everett did say that the vote would not bind future boards. Still, he said he found it unlikely that any future board would vote differently.
“The guidance that the FAA provided us isn't going to change anytime soon. I don't think circumstances will change, so for a future board to make a different decision would be surprising,” he said.
Pawlowski countered that the roadblocks put up by the FAA were significant, “but not roadblocks that can't be overcome.”
“Time will tell if that was the right move for the Airport Authority, but the land is going to be so valuable in the future somebody is going to see it's worth the effort,” said Pawlowski.“It might not be me, but it's going to be somebody. You haven't heard the last of this.”