Paine Field aviation center proposal raises revenue concerns

EVERETT — Snohomish County leaders could decide soon on clearing the way for a vast expansion of Paine Field’s already impressive trove of vintage airplanes.

If the vision from aircraft collector John Sessions materializes, the community stands to gain a cluster of world-class exhibits on the west side of Paine Field. It would add to the Boeing Tour, Future of Flight and other historic aviation facilities on airport grounds.

To make it happen, though, the county would have to donate — or at least forgo — lease revenue on more than 12 acres of prime airport real estate. And that’s causing heartburn for airport officials.

“There are other entities that have expressed interest in that area for fair market value,” airport director Arif Ghouse said. “What we recommend — bottom line — is not to give away airport land for no rent.”

The decision rests with the County Council.

Sessions is prepared to present his proposal during a council committee meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Airport officials also plan to share their concerns publicly for the first time.

Sessions first pitched his plan to the county in late 2013. He wants to create what he calls a historic aviation campus.

An attorney and developer, Sessions founded the Historic Flight Foundation in 2003 to focus on airplanes built between 1927 and 1957. He opened a facility at Paine Field in 2010 with space to display more than a dozen planes at a time. Now, the collection is outgrowing the 18,000-square-foot building.

The campus concept grew from thoughts about how to expand. The idea is to add another five buildings nearby, along taxiway Kilo 6. The new buildings would each average about 28,000 square feet.

“What really gave this steam was two years ago, when the county came out with its strategic plan for tourism,” Sessions said. “Paine Field was the main draw. We should do everything we can to make it successful. Why don’t we see what we can do with our plans to expand?”

Sessions contends there’s no downside to his proposal. He’s in touch with people in charge of some of the world’s preeminent aircraft museums. He believes he could get them on board — if the county commits the space.

“We’re just a bit player in this,” he said. “Our goal is to have five world-class collections (or museum exhibits) here.”

Sessions has made presentations about the proposal to elected officials in Arlington, Everett, Lynnwood, Mukilteo and Snohomish. City leaders have reacted with uniform support, he said.

Paine Field administrators, however, said the 12-plus acres Sessions wants for his campus could command about $350,000 per year in rent. They’ve received lease inquires from two parties other than Sessions, including a company that wants to build corporate hangars on five to seven acres.

The Boeing Co. currently has a short-term lease to use the area around taxiway Kilo 6 for parking jets. The aerospace giant pays a rate of $200,000 per year.

Instead of Sessions’ plan, airport officials want to put out a request for proposals to see what kind of interest the land gets from other parties.

Beyond lost lease revenue, county officials worry about being disqualified from Federal Aviation Administration grants, which have funded about $52 million in Paine Field development during the past decade.

County officials sought the FAA’s advice about Session’s concept. The head of the FAA’s Seattle District Office said it presents several potential problems.

In one version of the campus proposal, the county would deed over the land to a governing authority for the aviation campus, which in turn would lease out the land. The FAA said there could be a negative impact on other airport uses if the county gives up control of the land.

A free or reduced lease also could create a fairness issue with other aircraft collections at the airport, which pay more than $1.2 million in combined rent.

Additionally, former Paine Field director Dave Waggoner, in an email to the FAA last year, said some of Sessions’ economic assumptions were “difficult to understand and appear to be exaggerated.”

Sessions maintains the county stands to recoup the land’s value many times over if the campus takes shape. Private investment in roads and utilities alone would reach $3 million.

At worst, he said, the county would get the land back in a few years if his vision doesn’t take off.

He even hired a Washington, D.C., attorney who formerly served as the FAA’s chief counsel to rebut the conclusions reached by Paine Field administrators.

“It should not lead to any kind of problem with the FAA whatsoever,” Sessions said.

County Council members can move the issue for action at a future meeting, or take more time to think it over.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road on Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Long live the Speedway! Mukilteo’s main drag won’t be renamed

The public shot down the mayor’s idea to change the name: 77% voted ‘No’ in an online survey, with 95% opposed on Facebook.

Everett
Motorcyclist dies in crash on East Marine View Drive in Everett

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a motorcycle and a vehicle crashed into each other at the intersection of 11th street and East Marine View Drive.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash on Highway 530

Jeremy Doyle, 46, was riding east near Darrington when he crashed into the side of a car that was turning left.

The Marysville School District office on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Financially insolvent’ Marysville schools to get unprecedented oversight

Superintendent Chris Reykdal will convene a first-of-its-kind Financial Oversight Committee, he wrote in a letter Tuesday.

Woodside Elementary Principal Betty Cobbs on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett’s first Black principal retires after 51 years

In her office, Betty Cobbs kept a black-and-white photo of herself at age 5: “I am right there, with dreams of becoming an educator.”

Junelle Lewis, right, daughter Tamara Grigsby and son Jayden Hill sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monroe’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
On Juneteenth: ‘We can always say that there is hope’

The Snohomish County NAACP is co-sponsoring a celebration Saturday near Snohomish, with speakers, music and food.

Firefighter hopefuls suit up during the Future Women in EMS/Fire Workshop on Saturday, June 22, 2024, at the South County Fire Training Center in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
To fill gap, Snohomish County tries new approach to recruit women firefighters

About 30 women tried on bunker gear, pulled rope and worked chainsaws at a first-of-its-kind workshop Saturday.

Granite Falls
Man, 35, dies from heart attack while hiking Lake 22

The man suffered a heart attack about 1½ miles into the 6-mile hike east of Granite Falls on Friday, authorities said.

36 hours after final show, Everett radio host Charlye Parker, 80, dies

When Parker got into radio, she was a rarity: a woman in a DJ booth. For the past 12 years, she hosted weekend country music shows at KXA.

Homeowners Jim and Chris Hall stand beneath their new heat pump, at right, inside their Whidbey Island home on Thursday, Sep. 7, 2023, near Langley, Washington. The couple, who are from Alaska, have decreased their use of their wood burning stove to reduce their carbon footprint. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County to start ‘kicking gas’ in push for all-electric homes

Last year, 118 Whidbey Island homes installed energy-efficient heat pumps. A new campaign aims to make the case for induction stoves now, too.

Dr. Scott Macfee and Dr. Daniel Goodman outside of the Community Health Center on Wednesday, June 12, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett CHC doctors, feeling like ‘commodities,’ speak up on ailing system

At the Community Health Center of Snohomish County, doctors say they feel like “rats getting off a sinking ship.” They want it to get better.

Construction occurs at 16104 Cascadian Way in Bothell, Washington on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County real estate values tick up 4.5% in assessor’s report

You’ve got mail: The Snohomish County Assessor’s Office will send property tax statements this week.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.