‘Runway at East Gate’ Project Area will Enhance Economic Development and Hill Air Force Base

It's been done at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, and Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. Now, Layton City leaders hope it can be done at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

More than two decades in the making, last week the Military Installation Development Authority (MIDA) Board approved a 90-acre project area and runway access at Hill Air Force Base that Layton City is now marketing to private businesses as "Runway at East Gate." The 13,500 foot runway is the longest in Utah.

In working with MIDA, Layton City was assisted by leaders from Hill Air Force Base, Sunset Ridge Development Partners, the Utah Defense Alliance, the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs and the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah).

"This is a fantastic opportunity and having such a strong partnership to work with MIDA was extremely important and necessary to move the process forward," says EDCUtah President and CEO Jeff Edwards. "Together, we were able to find ways to make the arrangement beneficial for Hill Air Force Base, for the private sector and Layton City."

Layton City Mayor Bob Stevenson explains that "approval of the MIDA project area is a major milestone in moving this development forward. It took a lot of work from a lot of people to get us here, and I am excited about the economic development opportunity this brings to the base, Layton City and northern Utah."

Kent Andersen, Layton's Deputy Director of Economic Development, says the proposal identifies the development of aircraft hangers on the base and the potential for 5,000 annual operations (take offs and landings) on Utah's longest runway, without interfering with Hill Air Force Base's core mission.

"The runway use and 180,000 square feet of hangar space–large enough to house three 767s–can facilitate aerospace companies or just-in-time businesses that need large or heavy aircraft operations," he adds. "Fifty of the 90 acres will be available for enhanced use lease on the base in the newly designated area, which is located immediately south of the F-22 heavy maintenance facilities on the east side of the base near the city's East Gate Business Park."

Andersen describes a scenario where a business could have quick, convenient access to the air base's runway and hangar space while also establishing manufacturing or distribution operations in the adjacent business park. East Gate, he says, is an economic development project area within Layton City that is a compliment to Falcon Hill, another enhanced use lease area on Hill Air Force Base. Falcon Hill focuses on research and development, while East Gate focuses on manufacturing and distribution.

"They are complimentary business parks," he says.

Runway at East Gate could be especially useful for companies like aerospace manufacturers, shipping companies, or private military contractors with ties to the base. Andersen says leaders for the Utah Air National Guard also are excited to explore the possibilities of relocating the Guard to the enhanced use lease area.

The Utah Air National Guard has outgrown its accommodations at the Salt Lake International Airport and is exploring relocation opportunities so that it can utilize the newer KC-46 aircraft. The Guard currently operates nine KC-135's, but would like to expand its mission to 12 of the newer aircraft. While relocating the Utah Air National Guard will cost an estimated $250-$400 million, moving the Guard to Hill Air Force Base from prime, developable land at the Salt Lake International Airport could be a win/win for everyone, says Andersen.

Layton City first approached Hill Air Force Base leaders in the early 90s about sharing the runway for a development opportunity. The city initiated another pitch to the base in 2011, when an aerospace manufacturing contract was looking for a location where it could land the 747 Dreamlifter, pick up manufactured parts and take off again. The aircraft contractor needed access to a runway with the opportunity for manufacturing nearby. A short time frame for a relocation decision hampered that opportunity.

Following the federal government sequestration, the military began looking for alternative sources of revenue and partnerships. It was no longer business as usual. Andersen says that in 2013 Hill Air Force Base started what is called a "P4 Partnership Program," welcoming opportunities to partner with local governments, state government, nonprofits and private entities to assist the base with cost reductions and revenue generation.

That was when the base and Layton City discussed the potential of a municipal sponsorship for the shared use of Hill Air Force Base's runway and the city moved forward on a proposal.

"Our goal for the project area is to have a tenant locate in a hanger adjacent to the runway, and establish a manufacturing facility just outside of the base in the East Gate Business Park," he says.

Further, he says Layton City will do "whatever we can" to support Hill Air Force Base and its mission. If a shared-use runway can help make that happen, all the better. The partnership with Hill Air Force Base should also help create new jobs in northern Utah and benefit all of the cities that enjoy the economic advantages of the base. Andersen also notes that any specific uses will still be subject to Air Force review, a process that can take from 18 to 24 months.

Because the Runway at East Gate project has an estimated cost of $85 million, much of which would be done by local contractors, the shared use arrangement will also benefit local construction companies. Andersen says $55 million is needed to develop a hangar, aprons and approaches to the runway while another $30 million is necessary for off-site utility improvements.

Ultimately, the shared use partnership will help Hill Air Force Base reduce the gap in paying for much needed east-side infrastructure improvements. The base and local leaders hope any company taking advantage of the new access will help shoulder some of the costs of the improvements. Further, since MIDA is much like a redevelopment agency, it can help with the funding gap through bonding. Seventy-five percent of any tax revenue generated in the project area will go to MIDA, while 25 percent will be distributed to the local taxing entities.

Andersen says the developer, Sunset Ridge, has contracted with CBRE to start marketing the project and several possible companies have been targeted as potential tenants.