Wise to meet with Willard task force

Wise to meet with Willard task force

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SAVOY — University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise said the campus remains committed long term to being involved in Willard Airport.

Wise meets today with members of a community task force who have been examining the airport's challenges and have offered more than a dozen recommendations for its future.

Wise, who flies frequently to meet with donors and alumni and says she uses the airport as often as she can, asked the group last winter to come up with ideas on how to expand air service and how the university-owned airport should be governed.

"We believe that transportation is key to the success of the university because we have so many faculty going in and out for seminars, for advisory boards, for any number of things. For the other businesses in cities of Urbana and Champaign, efficient transportation is absolutely key," Wise told The News-Gazette. "It's also absolutely key to future economic development for the region. So we take our responsibilities to make sure that the airport is optimally run very, very seriously."

Wise tapped former Champaign City Manager Steve Carter to head the group and asked for a report to be delivered to her in December. Working with the group is Jack Penning of Sixel Consulting. The UI and the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District hired Sixel to help the group facilitate the process, which kicked off about a year ago.

Today is the first time the group will meet with the chancellor to discuss its work and recommendations.

"It's a chance for the chancellor to talk with the task force if she has some questions about the process or recommendations. Over the next several weeks, she'll decide how we proceed forward," said Associate Chancellor Mike DeLorenzo.

At the top of the list of the group's recommendations: hire a management company to run the airport or hire a CEO.

Wise said she did not prefer one option over the other — both have the university still involved in the airport, she pointed out — but stressed that timing is critical.

"I don't think we have a lot of time to ... sit around and (debate) this because time is of the essence here. What we will be talking about with the committee is how can we do this most efficiently, both time-wise and long-term planning," Wise said.

Expenses in the last five years have averaged about $2.3 million and revenues have averaged almost $2.5 million. Wise said by following the group's recommendations, the university's financial subsidy — about $400,000 a year — should decrease over time and the airport should be more viable.

Among its recommendations, the task force suggested increasing parking rates — from $5 to $7 a day — to generate additional revenue.

"Because business at the airport will increase, parking at the airport will increase, the ability to get taxis in and out and to be able to rent a car will also all be made more efficient," Wise said.

Wise said the university will be asking the cities of Champaign, Urbana and Savoy, and some of the businesses in town, what they can afford to give "for something that will give everybody returns."

"This is not so that the university profits from this. This is so that every citizen in this region actually has access to better transportation," she said.

Other recommendations in the report call for the creation of a regional airport advisory committee with members from the UI, cities and local agencies; automate parking; work with the cities to develop stronger taxi licensing regulations and ensure the continuation of public transit at the airport; adopt a standard incentive plan for new air service; develop community support for new and expanded air service; figure cost projections and design of new rental car service center; re-brand the airport "Fly Champaign-Urbana"; create a land-use master plan; and lobby for a new air-traffic control tower.

Staff writer Julie Wurth contributed to this report.

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Fedupwithstatereps wrote on January 27, 2015 at 11:01 am

They should adopt the same model as Bloomington's airport because they are far superior to Willard.  Aren't all these "recommendations" old news and been talked about for years? Nothing ever changes. They keep paying people to sit these committees just so they can recycle the same old ideas?  Airlines aren't interested in the C-U market. How many millions have they paid out to airlines to only have them pull out in a few months (Alligent ring a bell?)?  Just saying.

capt80 wrote on January 27, 2015 at 11:01 am


Valid point, however, I believe CIRA has major support from the local taxing body, ie. local residents. I doubt that would go over very well here in Champaign County considering the level of our taxes already.

Fedupwithstatereps wrote on January 27, 2015 at 11:01 am

And yet, they are successful and Willard is not.

dogbreath wrote on January 27, 2015 at 11:01 am

I live in Mahomet. I travel often, usually away for over a month. I like Willard, but why go there and pay $5/day ($150 or more per trip), when I can go to Bloomington and park for FREE. Beyond that there is very little differance between the two airports.

Now they are considering rasing the parking fee to $7/day. What are these people thinking ???

I'm sure the parking rates are a huge negative for many travellers, probaby the number one deterance. Too not make this adjustment is mind boogling.


Sid Saltfork wrote on January 27, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Just as the Assembly Hall is now the State Farm Center, find a corporate sponsor willing to contribute for naming rights.  Maybe, NIKE could be approached by the right person to do it?  Flex-N-Gate Field?  Otherwise, sell it for residential development. 

missinJerry wrote on January 27, 2015 at 1:01 pm

The biggest problem facing Willard is the unreliable service from ORD.  It's fine to fly out, but getting stuck at gate Z99 while the 7 o'clock to CMI shows delayed, then cancelled, and re-booking the 9 PM, only to have it delayed then ultimately cancelled only needs to happen a couple times before driving to BMI or IND starts to look pretty good.

Oh, and raise the parking fees, that's the ticket.  People will flock to Willard once that's done.

loopillini wrote on January 27, 2015 at 2:01 pm

People continually raise the daily fee to park at CMI as a reason to not fly out of the airport. Are you really saving that much by getting free parking in Bloomington when you consider the cost of gas + the hour or so drive time to and from their airport?

I fly regularly for work - I am a consultant for one of the Big Fours, based in our Chicago office, but choose to live in Champaign for the amazing quality of life - and fly in and out of Willard nearly every week of the year. I find it comical that people will not shell out $5 to take a 10 min max drive to your hometown airport, park 2 minutes away from the front door of said airport and then be at your gate in another 5. If that $5 (or $7) per day is that much of an impediment to your ability to afford or enjoy your flight somewhere, perhaps you shouldn't be flying anywhere to begin with. 

We are incredibly lucky to have a convenient airport and should be doing everything in our power to keep and grow what we have.

bluegrass wrote on January 27, 2015 at 11:01 pm

You should just ride your high horse back and forth to Chicago.  

Fedupwithstatereps wrote on January 27, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Where I live (North of C-U) it is 40 minutes to Savoy or 40 minutes to Bloomington.  Gas is the same, parking rate is not.  More flight options out of Bloomington that do not go through Chicago, which is a BIG plus in my book because it never fails that the limited flights are always delayed.  I choose Bloomington every time. 

urbana1234 wrote on January 27, 2015 at 10:01 pm

The parking isn't the biggest thing. CMI airport with zero amenities, limited options for connections ( unless you want to go that dump O'Hare to connect ). It is embarrassing.

Agree with Wise. Time to do something and move forward instead of hiring consultants and task forces blowing hot air.

dogbreath wrote on January 28, 2015 at 10:01 am

As I mentioned I travel for long periods of time. $5/day is not a big deal for those who take short trips, for long trips it adds up, and big.

For those who live on the West side of C-U driving to Bloomington is not much further than Willard. Why pay the extra for nothing ?