Lansing purchased the Chicago-Hammond Airport in the 1970s for the selling price of $1,75 million, anticipating that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would be reimbursing the Village in the near future. The owner of the property at the time agreed that it should remain an airport, instead of becoming another housing project.
Ultimately $1,411 million did get reimbursed because the Village complied with FAA funding guidelines. It was then renamed Lansing Municipal Airport.
With the purchase the Village assumed control of the Ford Hangar.
At that time Associated Air Activities, an existing Fixed Based Operator, was a tenant in the building and performed aviation-related activities, paying land rental that would now be transferred to the Village. Associated Air Activities generated revenue from operating a flight school, selling aviation fuel, aircraft sales, and maintenance and storage of personally owned aircraft.
Even though the Village, as owner of the building, became responsible for its maintenance, little was done to provide a workable environment so the tenant would be able to function as a business. No heating or air conditioning existed, little bathroom facilities were provided, and the roof leaked. Initially, while the Village did little to help Associated Air, it still expected rent to be paid.
Wade Palmer was the owner and main operator of Associated Air Activities. The company and the aviation services it provided were essential for the airport to remain open and functioning.
The Village appointed Wendell Jones as the first official manager of the Lansing Municipal Airport, to run day-to-day activities.
Then-Mayor Louis LaMourie created an Airport Commission to oversee the Village’s investment and make reports to the Village Board. The Airport Commission quickly identified the needs of Associated Air Activities. It was understood that the services offered by Associated Air would be needed to keep the facility functional until the Village would commit to perform the needed services to maintain a safe and efficient airport. This included airport expansion that could be provided by the FAA through the Transportation Improvement Program.
The Commission realized that the Village would have to provide assistance to help improve the working conditions in the office and hangar itself. For example, because airplane mechanics were required to work in cold weather during the winter months, the new partnership between Associated Air and the Village agreed that a moveable metal wall enclosure should be erected so that a heated area of the hangar would be available. When it was completed, airplane maintenance increased, and more revenue was provided to Associated Air so that they could pay the rent the Village was charging. To fund the project the Commission had recommended that Associated Air be allowed a rent credit for the cost of the building improvement.
To become more proactive the Commission worked with Lansing Public Works to provide more asphalt tie-down areas near the Ford Hangar. These would be rented to pilots who would pay for space to have their airplanes off grass tie-downs and provide easier access to taxiways.
Associated Air Activities wanted to sell individual hangars called Port-a-Ports to provide more under-roof aircraft housing. In fact, Associated Air sold ten of them—they still exist just east of the north-side T-hangar banks. This provided sales commission revenues to Associated Air for selling the units, and a source of new revenue was established for the airport in the form of land rentals.
Add to this scenario that the FAA and the Illinois Division of Aeronautics were standing over the airport as guardian angels with large grants to reward successful airports that were ready to follow their guidelines.
With each stage of the airport’s development new business came to Associated Air Activities. The result of that cooperation was the extension of Runway 9-27, infrastructure for new T-hangar construction, and funding for a new longer runway. This is how publicly funded airports provide for their Fixed Base Operators if they are smart enough to follow the system.
As early as May 2011 the Village began to change its Ford Hangar policy. In essence, the Village broke its partnership with Associated Air Activities and its promises to the FAA to comply with their special assurances that were conditions for federal funding.
It was announced that the Village would be converting the facility into a venue for public and private events. Then-Mayor Norm Abbott said the Village had been in discussion with Associated Air Activities for over a year before the action was taken. The new plan was to move the Village’s offices across the runway to the recently vacated Pyramid Hangar and turn over the previous location to Associated Air. It was explained that the move would provide Associated Air with more office space but less hangar area—a net loss for Associated Air.
The business move was unsuccessful and would not end well. Associated Air had no chance to pay its rent under their existing lease because of diminished aircraft clients. Associated Air also had to deal with another obstacle—the Cook County-imposed leasehold tax. How could a Fixed Base Operator on a struggling Illinois reliever airport deal with an unexplained and arbitrary assessment of the value of its lease?
Even though I provided the Lansing Municipal Airport with strategies to follow, they were disregarded. In 2015 Lansing required Associated Air Activities to enter into a settlement agreement to terminate its existing lease that was originally signed in 1988. This was done by legal action in order to settle a rent-due complaint for $26,202.
I believe this was a draconian agreement not worthy of Lansing and not fair consideration of Wade Palmer’s contributions to the history of the Ford Hangar for over 40 years.
At the July 21, 2015, Village Board meeting, an executive session was called to consider approving the agreement. After the session, with only two residents in attendance, the Board approved the agreement without details or explanation.
I used a FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) to secure the document, and it is still in my Ford Hangar history file. I can provide a copy to anyone who shows interest.
In 2019 the Village dedicated an area north of the fuel island to Wade Palmer. It is called Palmer Square Airport Observation Park. I still debate with myself the reasons behind this conscience-appeasement action.
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