More coming to MidAmerica? St. Clair County officials mum on business park

News-DemocratJuly 18, 2013 

County officials have given their OK to take the first step toward selling more than 250 acres of county-owned property to developers intending to create a business park, and more than 2,100 jobs, near MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah.

The county's Public Building Commission, which oversees the airport, on Thursday approved hiring a company to appraise 253 acres south of Interstate 64 along Illinois 4.

MidAmerica Airport Director Tim Cantwell did not address the long-term plans of the appraised property and refused to be interviewed following the meeting. St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern did not attend the meeting and could not be reached for comment.

The appraisal would give the county a firm value of the property, which Covenant Aerospace Inc. aims to purchase and convert to a business park centered around the construction of cargo airplanes, according to documents provided to the News-Democrat by the Public Building Commission prior to the meeting and additional details published on Covenant's website.

The owners of Covenant Aerospace could not be reached for comment. The venture is estimated to create 2,180 jobs, according to the company's plans, and include Covenant constructing the aircraft production building, subassembly buildings and other support buildings in the park.

The planned project was not mentioned during a meeting with Cantwell and County Board members on Tuesday. County Board member Nick Miller, a Republican from Lebanon, said the lack of communication with County Board members concerning the project was frustrating and "borderline insulting."

"I'm completely confused why Cantwell spent 40 minutes talking with County Board members Tuesday and we were not told about this," Miller said. "At this point I think it's incumbent to provide information because that's county property and we're elected by the citizens of St. Clair County to know what's going on. There is a bad track record of things going on at that airport without us knowing."

The site of the proposed business park is within the St. Clair County MidAmerica Enterprise Zone, which encompasses parts of Mascoutah, Shiloh, Lebanon and unincorporated areas surrounding MidAmerica Airport. Enterprise zones intend to spur investment by offering a variety of tax breaks to businesses, such as not having to pay sales taxes on building materials.

Covenant also is negotiating with AVMATS, based in Chesterfield, Mo., to take over an operation providing services for pilots at MidAmerica, according to county-provided documents. Covenant lists its address as the same as AVMATS location at MidAmerica Airport on the company's website.

Public Building Commissioner Dan Polites declined to comment on the county's future plans for the appraised property but did praise the commission's approval to join the Global Cargo Network, a network of international cargo freight service companies.

The measure intends to help MidAmerica capitalize on a partnership with Ningbo Lishe International Airport in China. County leaders have been working to solidify MidAmerica as a cargo hub for perishable goods between China and Latin America.

Polites praised Cantwell's efforts.

"He continues to seek more opportunities for the airport," Polites said. "We're very much interested in joining a network that can really streamline things not just nationally but internationally."

He said it is still early in the process and "we're still trying to feel each other out."

Global aims to have flights routed through MidAmerica beginning late this year and host a summit of more than 70 shipping-related companies in August at MidAmerica. Global representatives could not be reached for comment.

"MidAmerica offers such great advantages," Polites said. "One of which is our central location in the country. The other one is we're not landlocked and we're aggressive with business opportunities globally. It's exciting what is happening at MidAmerica even though we'd like to see it more developed at this stage."

Membership to Global will cost $135,000, though, payment will only be due after the second flight of scheduled freighter service. County officials and Global are also negotiating a commission given to Global based upon fees of direct cargo aircraft, such as landing and fuel fees.

"If we win, they win," Polites said. "That's the incentive I think we need to venture for."

Polites said more opportunities are arising for the local airport following a period when the aviation industry struggled.

"We get from the public a lot of criticism and rightly so," Polites said. "You know 9/11 really hurt the aviation industry. You see the scarcity at (Lambert-St. Louis International Airport) but I've often said to the public that they are more than welcome to come to the (commission) meeting. It's open to the public and I think it'd be good for them to meet the commission. I think people will be impressed with how the (commission) operates."

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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