Banning Municipal Airport Receives Federal OK To Close Reprinted from Banning-Beaumont Patch

Legislation that paves the way for the long-desired shutdown is now awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature.

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Posted Wed, May 15, 2024 at 3:12 pm PT|Updated Wed, May 15, 2024 at 5:32 pm PT

Banning Municipal Airport
Banning Municipal Airport (City of Banning)

BANNING, CA — After a years-long effort to close the city-owned Banning Municipal Airport, it is finally happening.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2024. The federal legislation now headed to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature includes an amendment introduced last week by U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D) that paves the way for the shutdown. Democratic Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-25) also authored language for the closure.

“I am proud to have successfully fought for legislation that will finally provide a pathway for the closure of the Banning Airport,” Padilla said in a released statement. “For too long, the Banning Municipal Airport has been a financial drain on the community, preventing redevelopment and economic growth. Now, after years of work, the City of Banning and Morongo Band of Mission Indians can finally unlock untapped economic opportunity blocked by the airport. This is a significant milestone for the City and Tribe — and a major step toward creating good new jobs for local residents.”

“This bipartisan bill represents a turning point for my constituents in the City of Banning that has the potential to create jobs and bring hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development to the City,” Ruiz’s released statement read. “The inclusion of my legislation,H.R. 8216, to close Banning Airport is a monumental win for the City of Banning and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. This closure will provide economic growth for the district by allowing the City to repurpose the airport property to bring in new investments and jobs to the region. I applaud Senator Alex Padilla for championing this effort, City of Banning Mayor Alberto Sanchez for his steadfast leadership, and Chairman Charles Martin of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians whose tireless advocacy helped make this effort a reality.”

Under the legislation, the city of Banning is released from all obligations to the FAA, and the airport at 200 S. Hathaway Street can close as long as the following conditions are met:

The city repays fair market value to the FAA for 20 acres of airport land received in a 1983 grant. This is the only airport land from the federal government.

  • The city repays all unamortized federal airport grant money it has received.
  • All salvageable airport and aviation equipment is redistributed to other airports.

The Banning Municipal Airport opened in 1945. In recent years, the approximately 250-acre site has seen declining operations that have made the facility a financial drain on the community. According to city and federal officials, flights have decreased by 68% since 2010, and 40% of the airport’s bays are unusable.

For more than seven years the city has attempted to close the airport, calling it inefficient and unsafe. After commissioning a feasibility study in 2016 to analyze the airport’s future, the city passed a resolution in 2017 to shutter the facility and upheld that document again on June 13, 2023.

The city cannot close the airport without federal approval, however, and the FAA was not keen on doing so.

Banning City Manager Doug Schulze worked with federal lawmakers and tribal leaders to find a solution, and on Wednesday those efforts paid off.

“We’ve had so much support from our congressional leaders,” Schulze said.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians supports the airport closure because it wants to develop land adjacent to the airport. The tribal land is situated in the airport’s crash zone, which has significantly limited development in the area.

“On behalf of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, I want to thank Congressman Ruiz and U.S. Senator Padilla for their hard work to help close the Banning Municipal Airport so that both the Tribe and the City can pursue new economic development opportunities that will create jobs and support the regional economy as a whole,” read a statement from Vice Chairman James Siva, Morongo Band of Mission Indians.

The airport closure will not happen overnight — it will take months, maybe more. When it does, however, the city’s plans are already laid.

In December, Banning City Council approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with Texas-based Hillwood, a company experienced in airport redevelopment, including the Rialto Municipal Airport, which shuttered in 2014. The agreement lays out that Hillwood pays the city for exclusive negotiating rights to develop the airport property. The five-year ENA includes two optional one-year extensions.

According to Schulze, Grandave Studios is among the businesses looking to land at the airport property. The independent film studio wants to house offices, sound stages, outdoor filming facilities, rentable storage space, retail stores and parking.

Warehousing and manufacturing facilities are also planned on the airport property. The businesses are anticipated to lure additional support service industries to the site, Schulze explained.

Residential development is not planned on the property, but Schulze said the city has several housing projects in the works elsewhere, with about 15,000 new homes coming this year.

“Banning has an active housing market,” he said.

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