Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport

Saturday, November 6, 2004
Development focused on Thermal airport complex
By Pat Maio
The Palm Springs (CA) Desert Sun

Plans are under way to build a sprawling complex of hangars at the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport to provide fuel and other services for commercial plane-sized aircraft — with the idea of making the Thermal complex an industry standard for catering to the wealthy jet set in Southern California. A $35.8 million, 30-year lease with a 10-year option has been signed by a newly formed investment group that has plans to build at least six 40,000-square-foot hangars at the Thermal-based airport. The first hangar is scheduled to open next September at a cost of $10 million.

The lease was signed by the investment group Desert Resorts Aviation LLC, and the Riverside County Economic Development Agency, which owns the airport.

“It’s a long time coming,” said Paul Clayton, founder and president of El Paseo Wealth Management LLC of Palm Desert, and one of the investment group’s backers.

“The growth is in the east valley. We’ve got all of these beautiful developments on this end of the valley where guys can now come in with their private jets for the weekend,” he said.

Besides Clayton, the investment group is led by Matthew V. Johnson, co-founder of Wilson Johnson Commercial Real Estate in Palm Desert, and may eventually include a “legendary sports figure” and officials associated with a major aircraft company. Clayton and Johnson declined to elaborate. There is a third investor in Desert Resorts Aviation whom Clayton and Johnson each declined to identify.

“It could be huge,” said Rob Field, director of aviation with the Riverside County Economic Development Agency. The investment group has yet to submit its plans for development of the complex, also known as a fixed-base operation.

In industry parlance, fixed-base operations, or FBO’s, provide various services for private plane crews and passengers, including fueling, maintenance, booking of rental cars and hotel rooms. They also offer catering, hangar space leasing, insurance and concierge services.

Johnson said the plan is to make the 25-acre location the largest FBO in Southern California.

Field said the 30-year lease is valued at $332 per acre, per month, equating to a total worth of $35,856,000 for the county — not including the 10-year option.

Clayton said the investment group plans to build the FBO big enough to handle the Boeing Co./ General Electric Co.-developed BBJ class of business jets. These planes, which are 110-foot-long Boeing 737 commercial jets converted for private use, have a range of 6,200 miles.

Currently, the runways at the Thermal airport are getting extended, and being upgraded to handle the landing of large aircraft like the Boeing commercial jets, which require less than 6,000 feet of runway.

Clayton said that he had hoped to disclose the names of the other project investors in time for announcement at today’s air show scheduled at the Thermal airport. The announcement will be made sometime in the next few months, he said.

With the FBO, Johnson said the group plans to pursue local, regional and worldwide customers to stop over at their facility. “If someone from New York is on their way to Hawaii, and they need to refuel on the West Coast, this is going to be the preferred location to stop over,” he said.

“We can’t tell you how we’re decorating, but we will have a unique level of service unlike anything seen in the Coachella Valley,” Johnson said. “We will address the individual needs of our clients, and all of the services that they require.”