DULUTH — A proposed airport hangar could lure military contracts here and have a “substantial” economic impact for the region, its backer says — but it’s more pitch than plan at this point.
“The question is, where will the money come from,” said Don Monaco, the owner of Duluth-based aircraft services provider Monaco Air.
He’s seeking taxpayer support for a project he says could bring 1,300 visitors a year who would then spend millions, largely in the hospitality industry.
“I can’t justify building a $4 million hangar,” Monaco told the Duluth Economic Development Authority commission last week. “I know demand is there. Unfortunately there is risk.”
Monaco estimates that yearly revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover financing. Under his proposal, the city would bond for and own the hangar for 10 years before transferring it to Monaco, who would pay for ongoing maintenance.
Though some years would underperform others, he warned, the overall benefit could make up for the investment.
Duluth’s interim planning and development director, Adam Fulton, said his staff was gathering information about the proposal.
“We are enthusiastic about the growth over the past decade in Duluth’s aviation sector, and broadly supportive of new aviation-related initiatives,” he said. “However, this proposal is new to us and remains something we are evaluating and learning more about.”
Monaco said he may also seek state bonding dollars.
The Duluth International Airport, which is currently undergoing long-term planning, sees a “great opportunity” in the proposal in terms of impacts on tourism and the local economy.
“We know this airport plays a role in economic development,” said airport spokesperson Natalie Peterson. “We definitely have space.”
Monaco said the hangar could lure military ice testing back to Duluth, where it took place from 1983 until 2014 when “the hangar facility was no longer available,” according to the Army. The airborne tests involve a helicopter spraying a trailing aircraft with water so the Federal Aviation Administration can certify it for icing conditions.
Today that testing takes place in Marquette, Mich., and brings up to $2 million in economic benefits, according to a report from Sawyer International Airport.
Monaco said it’s hard to guarantee consistent icing work, but a new hangar in Duluth could also house aircraft visiting the Minnesota Air National Guard base.
“If this project comes to fruition, the space and capability would be helpful when the 148th Fighter Wing hosts flying training exercises,” said 148th spokesperson Audra Flanagan.
The hangar would also be useful for Monaco Air, which took over operating the private jet terminal at the Duluth airport in 2005 and provides services for private aircraft such as fueling, maintenance and concierge service for pilots and guests.
“Monaco Air could potentially use it for transient aircraft that come through during down periods,” Monaco said. “We are out of hangar space.”