MTD backs contract for business plan for Willard Airport
CHAMPAIGN — Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District board members Wednesday approved a $113,200 contract with a Eugene, Ore., firm to develop a strategic business plan for Willard Airport.
The University of Illinois, which owns the airport, will cover 90 percent of the cost of the study by Sixel Consulting Group. The MTD will provide the other 10 percent, or about $11,320.
The MTD board voted in January to partner with the UI in helping to recommend a business structure and governance plan for the airport, which has been operated by the UI since 1945.
Sixel already has begun its work on the project, said Steve Carter, a former Champaign city manager who is on the local task force studying the airport's future. Carter said most of Sixel's work will be completed by the end of August.
Sixel's contract with the UI and the MTD says that it will report on six separate work elements, including a market study, market demand review, an assessment of operational performance, a strategic options analysis, a branding and marketing strategy and a strategic business plan.
"I think the airport is important to the community," said MTD board chairman Don Uchtmann. "I think we owe it to the community to try to put our best foot forward to try to have as viable an air transportation system as our community can possibly have."
In a related issue, Karl Gnadt, the director designate at the MTD, said the UI is withdrawing its support for the Airbus service that operates between downtown Champaign, the UI campus and the airport 14 times a day.
Since the UI no longer will operate the Institute of Aviation at Willard, and the new operator, Parkland College, says it can't afford the service, the Airbus could end this summer, Gnadt said.
— The retiring director of the MTD, Bill Volk, said the MTD board will have to decide in the coming months whether the service can be continued.
Also Wednesday, Volk said the MTD set a new monthly ridership record in February — 1.58 million passengers. The previous record was 1.39 million in October 2013. February's demand also featured 10 days with more than 70,000 passengers, including record ridership on Feb. 27 when 73,864 passengers boarded buses.
— Volk said the MTD is finalizing its plans to annex four subdivisions into the district: Stone Creek in southeast Urbana, Sawgrass and Boulder Ridge in northwest Champaign and the Lake Park development in unincorporated Champaign County, near the intersection of First Street and Curtis Road.
Public hearings on each of the annexation proposals probably will be held in late May or early June, he said.
"Although it's not required by law, we'll be sending letters to every property owner in the affected areas, with information about the public hearing, the location and a link to our website if they want to get information on it," Volk said.