Turn to opportunity

Quibbling about the series of events that led to the unfinished building at 800 Eagle Drive won’t solve the problem of what to do with it.

However it came to be, it’s a lemon. The Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority is trying to figure out how to turn it into lemonade.

A contingent of general aviation tenants at the airport would have the public believe that the half-built structure just east of the existing terminal is exhibit A in a scheme to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration.

But because of the way the airport board reacted to a federal search warrant — by ceasing work on the building amid its own investigation and rescinding a grant that would have covered construction costs — there are no clear answers. There’s just a skeleton of a building — an eyesore that the current board is tired of looking at.

That’s why the latest idea for the building — to finish it and turn it into a customs house as the centerpiece of an effort to establish a foreign trade zone — is an exciting development. It could turn something toxic into a benefit for the business community at a relatively low cost.

Once converted to a practical use, the building might someday serve as a stage for a new terminal as originally planned. In the meantime, it would provide an important economic development tool.

A foreign trade zone here would be the only one between Denver and Salt Lake City. Municipalities and nonprofits can seek federal approval for foreign trade zone status. Once given, it offers local manufacturers tax breaks on imported and exported goods.

To qualify for a foreign trade zone designation, Grand Junction needs a customs office. A customs office needs 2,500 square feet of space and direct access to a tarmac. The unfinished building could meet these requirements. Once a customs office can be established, local officials can pursue a foreign trade zone.

Lack of a foreign trade zone has already cost Mesa County two companies that officials were recruiting, a Grand Junction Economic Partnership board member told the airport board Tuesday.

The foreign trade zone would be a benefit to more than 20 local companies, said Diane Schwenke, the executive director of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

But before any of these steps can be initiated, the airport has to determine how much the plan will cost and who will pay for it. The board directed staff to draft a request for proposals to deal with the building. As the Sentinel’s Gary Harmon reported, the proposal is to compare the costs of completing the exterior of the structure with the costs of tearing it down — recently estimated at $1 million.

A comparison of those costs may not factor in the cost of lost opportunity. It may be cheaper to tear the skeleton down, but it eliminates fast-tracking a foreign trade zone — something local economic developers say we need to remain competitive.

Here’ a chance to bounce high after a precipitous fall and preserve the money that’s already been spent.

Like a glass half-full or half-empty, the building represents opportunity or regret. We’re pleased to see this airport board turn toward opportunity.


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