CRESTVIEW — What local and county officials frequently call "Crestview's economic generator" is on the verge of generating yet more economics for the north county.
The Okaloosa County Commission at its Tuesday morning meeting approved a lease with a Pensacola developer to build a 60,000-square-foot hangar at Bob Sikes Airport.
Dan Gilmore, owner of Rondan CEW LLC, has been interested in building a hangar "on speculation" to rent to future tenants, Airports Deputy Director Mike Stenson said.
"He’s been looking long and hard to build hangars," Stenson said. "He’s a developer. He’s developed communities, residences, subdivisions and that sort of thing. He saw the opportunity with Airbus coming" to Mobile, Ala. The European aircraft consortium plans to open a plant in Mobile that is expected to provide vendor opportunities into Northwest Florida.
Gilmore looked at general aviation airports throughout Northwest Florida, including some in Bay, Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties, “but he chose Crestview because of the leadership we have in place and all that we’ve done for the airport," Stenson said.
He reportedly selected Bob Sikes Airport specifically for County Airports Director Greg Donovan, Stenson and Deputy Director Tracy Stage's involvement.
"When I asked around and inquired the first time, you could tell they wanted somebody up there (in Crestview). It's always nice to be wanted. When you want something, you can do things to make sure it gets done," Stenson said.
"He liked that it’s pre-permitted and all the storm water mitigation that’s been done and the taxiways that we enlarged," he said. "It’s an ideal environment for any aerospace company that wants to grow."
The county airports department was tasked with enhancing Bob Sikes' infrastructure over the past five years, obtaining more than $32 million in grant money to resurface the 8,000-foot runway, widen the taxiways, refinish aprons, add runway lighting and install utilities for future growth.
"No taxpayer dollars from the area have been used at all," Stenson said, emphasizing that grants have funded improvements. "We’ve been really aggressive in going aftergrant money. Obviously, it’s paying off. We’ve got everyone looking at it. We have developers wanting to build hangars there."
With a 140,000-square-foot footprint, Gilmore's project near the runway's northwest end will encompass the hangar, an aircraft parking apron, a parking lot for vehicles and administrative offices, Stenson said. The plan was to build the facility and attract a tenant.
"He’s been talking to other aerospace companies," Stenson said. "Once the word got out what he’s doing, his phone’s been ringing off the hook."
In fact, Gilmore said, he's already signed a tenant.
"I can't disclose who it is at this point, but you'll be very proud of him," he said.
The tenant anticipates providing about 150 permanent jobs, Gilmore said. Construction of the hangar will provide jobs for local builders, he said.
"All the employees, all the workers and all the people driving bulldozers and trucks, they'll all be local people," Gilmore said.
Having a tenant has added impetus to get the project moving. Gilmore said he anticipates construction beginning "within 120 days. We're waiting for the weather to get a little bit better."
"We've got to get it built and we've got to get it built quickly," he said.
"It’s great to know all our efforts are paying off," Stenson said. "We’ve worked our tails off to build a world-class industrial airport, and we’re seeing it happen before our eyes.
"It’s real rewarding to see. We’ve all worked hard for that airport."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.