County taking over Griffiss hangar vacated by Premier Aviation

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The costs of the former home of aircraft maintenance company Premier Aviation at Griffiss International Airport, now mostly empty after the company left last year, are falling directly on Oneida County, prompting a change in how the vast former Air Force hangar is managed and marketed for potential new uses.

Oneida County legislators on Wednesday approved a measure shifting $100,000 from the county’s support of Mohawk Valley Edge, the non-profit economic-development agency that has been responsible for managing and promoting the massive building on the grounds the former air base in Rome.

Since 2003, 101 has been owned by 394 Hangar Corp., a legal entity affiliated with EDGE created to take over the building from the federal government. The county had an option to take control of the building in 2017 and is exercising it.

Premier, which conducted maintenance work on commercial aircraft, left in August. It had taken over Empire Aero, an Israel-based company doing similar work.

One of the four bays in the building remains occupied by the Air Force cyber research unit known as Rome Lab, one of the area’s largest employers.

The resolution approved Wednesday diverts $50,000 to the aviation department to pay for utility costs. The building is heated by a central steam-distribution system built by the Air Force before it pulled out in the mid-1990s. The other $50,000 will go into accounts used for promoting the airport, along with building 101, for potential other uses.

Like the rest of the airport, the ultimate aim is to make the facility pay for itself, but also to produce jobs, not just rent from tenants, County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. said in an interview after Wednesday’s board meeting.

“We’ve already been in discussion with three different firms that are interested in it without any formal disclosure, but we are actively pursuing leads for the building for aviation purposes and for either manufacturing and or repair operations,” Picente said.

“The ultimate goal when we look at these assets it’s really jobs and economic growth … It’s not just a matter of filling empty space and collecting rent.”

Legislators approved the measure without discussion.

Picente said he does not expect further reductions in county support for EDGE, which also provides staff and management of the county’s Industrial Development Agency, which can grant tax-reduction agreements for qualifying employers and developers, and for the legal entity created to manage re-development of the former B-52 base and airport with its nearly two-mile-long runway.

The move comes a couple months after the county hired David Catalfamo, a former top aide to then-Gov. George Pataki, the most recent Republican governor of New York, to lead county economic-development efforts. The legislature approved the job a year ago. EDGE’s role remains but the county will focus on promoting its own assets, like building 101 and the airport, Picente said, noting city governments have done the same for years.

“The issue ... goes back to what assets we control and what we have distinct differences with, and not differences in opinion but differences in purpose.”

A statement from EDGE’s leadership said county takeover of the vast hangar building was anticipated and pointed out that the organization has guided re-use of most of the former base into the Griffiss Business and Technology Park, now a hub of jobs and economic activity.

EDGE and the ownership entity, 394 Hangar Road Corp., carried out a re-use study with a consulting engineering firm then turned over the study to the county, EDGE President Steven DiMeo said in the statement. The county ultimately taking over was part of plans in an agreement for federal airport funding, he noted.

“This year EDGE had the added challenge of maintaining a hangar complex at Griffiss Park vacated by Premier Aviation, keeping this real estate viable through the winter was important to its reuse potential and we thank Oneida County for stepping up and helping with the large utility expense,” DiMeo said.

He noted the Air Force left the community with more than a million square-feet of “inadequate building stock.”

“Griffiss has become a hub of business activity with over 77 businesses, 5,800 employees, $3.3 million in generated taxes, and $625.5 million in capital projects. None of this would have happened if EDGE and its partners faltered on the strategic plan set in motion so many years ago. We look forward to continuing that momentum with Oneida County as a valued partner for further economic prosperity.”

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