Wise: UI ready to put Willard plan into effect

Wise: UI ready to put Willard plan into effect

SAVOY — University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise said she is "fully behind" an airport advisory group's report and the university is ready to implement a plan.

One of the first tasks is for the campus to draft a "request for proposals" that will address the airport's management. Also coming soon is a revamped marketing campaign — "Fly Champaign Urbana." There is no timetable yet on when parking rates could creep higher.

The Urbana chancellor met with members of an airport task force Tuesday to review their work and consider their recommendations.

"I am fully behind this and the weight of the university is therefore behind this. We recognize even more today than ever before the role of air transportation in the economic development of the region," Wise said.

At Wise's request, the group has been meeting over the last year to consider ways to expand air service, better market the airport, improve ground transportation to and from the airport and address other issues. They delivered the report to Wise in December, but that doesn't mean they're off the hook.

Chair Steve Carter will continue to meet with Associate Chancellor Mike DeLorenzo, Wise's point person on the airport, and they will determine what can be accomplished in three months, six months, a year and longer-term. And they will measure progress. "We don't want a plan that will just sit on a shelf," Carter said.

The group's report recommended an airport advisory board be created and Wise said she hopes there will be some overlap between the task force and the new advisory body.

Key to the report was the recommendation to hire either a management company to run the airport or a CEO. If the university does not receive responses from qualified firms interested in managing the airport, the UI should hire a chief executive officer for the airport and give him or her authority to negotiate with airlines and conduct other business for the airport.

Long-term, though, the university should consider another option.

Created by and owned by the university since its early days in the 1950s, Willard Airport should eventually be governed by an airport authority, concluded a technical committee of the task force. That subgroup suggested the university seek financial contributions from not only businesses, but also area municipalities. If the public sector contributed a total of $250,000, based on population, the city of Champaign would contribute approximately $83,000, Champaign County would contribute $72,000, Urbana would give $41,752 and Savoy would give $7,681.

The group suggested this money be raised by a source other than property taxes, such as a hotel-motel tax.

"If you take a look at the total budget of all those entities, it'd be a small portion of their budget," Carter said. "But everyone is still recovering from the recession and so that's not necessarily an easy thing for them to do and I think everybody would have to understand (the airport's) value in order to be able to make those contributions."

The university currently provides an annual subsidy of around $400,000 to keep the airport running. The report suggested a number of options aimed at reducing that amount. One of those options: automate parking and increase parking rates from $5 to $7 a day.

"We don't want parking rates to go up until we're sure everything else is in place," said Wise, who described the increase as a "modest one."

"It's still much less expensive than Indianapolis and Chicago" airports, she pointed out.

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dogbreath wrote on January 28, 2015 at 11:01 am

I'm curious.... Have these committees conducted any real studies regarding the loss of passengers due to the parking fees ?


I'm certain that there are a significant number of people who opt for BMI over CMI simply to avoid the parking fees. If you factor in the loss of user fees that otherwise would be realized.....  do the math. My guess is that they did not make this analysis, and are taking the lazy approach by just proposing to raise parking fees to balance revenue shortages - short sighted I'd say. Just underlines the failed policies of the past, and presents a window into what will follow in the future.

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 28, 2015 at 11:01 am

What will be the cost for a CEO, or management company compared to the $400,000 subsidy that the U of I pays?  Why should the county residents pay for the U of I's folly?  The airport started as the U of I's aviation program which is now defunct.  It is the U of I's property.  If Wise wants the working families in Champaign County to pay for it's failure, put it up to a county wide vote.  Municipalities are having their own problems paying for aged infrastructure like bridges, roads, and sewers with increases in property taxes.  Now, a group of highly educated individuals with expertise in a narrow area of research, not aviation, have decided that their continued folly should be paid for by those who cannot keep bailing out the ivory tower dreamers.  Sell it for residential development, and be done with it!

Orbiter wrote on January 28, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Absolutely asinine report. Virtually everyone I know who chooses to fly out of other airports does so for one of two reasons: (1) Free parking elsewhere, and (2) Flight delays and reroutes because of inadequate navigational hardware at Willard.  But the major reason is the parking fees.  And this report says the way to save the airport is to raise the parking fees?  That's so ironic it's not even funny.  


Goodbye, CMI.