Rialto Airport is History Thanks to Clueless City Council

Monday, September 12, 2005
Council set to unveil plan for Rialto airport
The Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise

RIALTO – Residents and city leaders will get their first look Tuesday at what the future could be like if the Rialto Municipal Airport is closed and the land turned into commercial and housing developments. A conceptual master plan for the more than 1,000 acres on and around the airport will be unveiled Tuesday at a special city council workshop. A $286.4 billion transportation bill signed by President Bush in August gave Rialto officials the ability to close the airport and determine how to use the land south of the future site of the 210 freeway.

A provision in the spending bill released the city from grant obligations to the Federal Aviation Administration that normally would require the agency to approve an airport closure. It permits the city to repay 90 percent of an unused FAA improvement grant over five years.

Although the council has not yet voted on whether or not to close the airport, “based on the bill, it’s a pretty safe bet that we will find another use for the airport,” Councilman Ed Scott said.

Earlier in the year, the City Council approved the sale of 504 acres on and around the airport to Lewis-Hillwood Rialto LLC. Under the terms of the sale, Lewis-Hillwood was to develop a master plan for a 1,100-acre area that includes the land south of Highland Avenue.

Officials said the plan likely would include a mix of commercial, retail, housing and industrial development. The area could also become home to a new city hall, Scott said.

“This is really Rialto’s opportunity to turn the corner and move into the new millennium,” he said. “It’s going to have a huge economic impact on the city and a huge cultural impact on the city. It’s going to put us up there with Rancho (Cucamonga) and Fontana.”

City officials have said the airport had been operating at a deficit for years. FAA officials had opposed closure, saying the airport is important to national and regional aviation systems.

Rialto Redevelopment Director Robb Steel estimated that the land is worth between $3 and $10 a square-foot. Under the terms outlined in the bill, 55 percent of the fair market value of the land will go to the city and 45 percent to the federal government to be used at the San Bernardino International Airport.

Most aviation related businesses at the airport will be relocated to the San Bernardino airport, Steel said.

It will likely be at least two or three years before development could begin, Steel said.

The conceptual plan could come back to the council by late October or November.

If approved, a specific plan amendment and environmental analysis could take 10 to 12 months.

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