Vision2 planned airport upgrades revealed

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Reported by: Ian Silver
Updated: 9/13/2012 9:40 am Published: 9/12/2012 10:27 pm

New information about the $750 million extension of the Vision2025 bond package, called Vision2, was released Wednesday.

Specifically, new details were shared about the more than $254 million of Vision2 funds that would be spent on improvements at Tulsa International Airport if voters approve it.

The upgrades would be made to facilities housing other businesses, not passenger terminals or areas of the airport the general public sees.

The Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce says the upgrades at the airport facilities are necessary to keep Tulsa competitive with other cities for business and jobs.

Most of the facilities at the airport were built during World War II and have had few updates or upgrades since then.

The chamber says the goal of the Vision2 funds would be to entice current tenant businesses to stay, keep them from cutting jobs, and hopefully help them to bring more jobs to the area.

One of those businesses is the IC Tulsa bus plant. More than 1,200 people work at the one million square foot facility. But the roof is more than 30 years old, and has leaks all over. When it rains, the plant occasionally has to shut down operations to protect workers and equipment.

Beyond that, the bus plant's electrical system has had hardly any upgrades since it was installed in the building in 1941. It also has no air conditioning.

If Vision2 passes about $20 million would be spent fixing the roof, electrical system, and installing some sort of cooling system.

But the company says Tulsans would get a good return on their investment.

"Lots of talk about adding additional jobs and bringing more manufacturing into this facility," Eric Saleh, plant operations manager, said.

It's an exciting possibility for Tulsa resident Tom Mann.

"More jobs here, good-paying jobs like the bus plant," Mann said. "I understand they pay $11, $15 an hour or something like that. It's not a great job, but it's good. Then [Vision2 is] a real good idea. We need more jobs in Tulsa."

Between $200 and $210 million of the Vision2 funds would go to the American Airlines maintenance base. The money would pay for various infrastructure upgrades throughout the base. But most of the money would go to expanding two of the hangars to allow them to work on bigger aircraft and building a new jet engine test cell facility capable of handling newer, bigger jet engines.

American Airlines recently expanded its fleet with an order of several of the new, bigger aircraft. As it is now, the maintenance base could not handle much of the work on those new aircraft.

Without the Vision2 upgrades, American would have to look at other options.

"What's our best option," Wayne Thomas, Director of Engine Maintenance at the base, asked. "What's our most cost-effective option? We've got to be competitive with the industry, obviously. Without being competitive we end up where we are today."

That would likely mean outsourcing work on the newer aircraft, which could be bad news for Tulsa.

But Mann isn't too keen on helping out American.

"I just don't want to give them a bunch of money, and then say 'well, now we're laying off 500 employees,'" he said.

If he knew the outcome from American would be positive, he says he'd be more willing.

"Any time we improve a facility for a company like that we need to talk to the company and say 'look, we'll do this for you, but what are you going to guarantee for us?'"

"[We need to] have a give and take situation instead of just a give, give, give."

But with American Airlines still in bankruptcy, it's difficult for the company to guarantee anything.

"Well, maybe we ought to wait before we give them money," Mann said.

Representatives with the chamber of commerce continue to point out that all of the Vision2 funds would be spent on infrastructure needs; improvements that would stay even if American or any other company at the airport were to leave.

In fact, the chamber says if that were to happen, the upgrades would be the insurance policy to make sure another company would move into the vacated facility.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of KOKI FOX23 - Tulsa

USEagle - 9/13/2012 11:06 AM
0 Votes
Vote AGAINST this and anything else that takes our hard earned money away!!

Grendel - 9/13/2012 7:34 AM
0 Votes
So,taxpayers are footing the bill for upgrades to buildings owned and operated by private citizens? Nice use of my taxpayer dollars Tulsa. I'd rather you fix some streets that ALL of us use, not just a private employer.
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