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A History of Austin's Newest General Aviation Airport
W. H
Chapter 12
Option one is for a real estate developer to
buy up the 585-acre airport site, scrape away
the runway and taxiway, and put up thousands
of new homes (not unlike what occurred when
Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, a 709-acre
site, shut down in 1999 and subsequently
transformed into a multi-use urban village of
more than 4,900 homes).
Option two is for the City of Austin to buy
the airport and continue its operation as a vi-
able business. Here's why option two is the
better way to go. In 2005, the Texas Depart-
ment of Aviation studied the economic impact
of airports in the state. They found that Texas
aviation provided over 61,000 jobs, with $2.5
billion in payroll, and $8.7 billion in total eco-
nomic output. Airports, they summarized,
produced two primary positive benefits. They
met transportation needs and stimulated eco-
nomic growth in the local community by pro-
viding revenue, jobs, and wages.
Given the revenue-generating nature of air-
ports as opposed to the cash-draining inclina-
tion of residential development, I believe the
City doesn't have a choice. It must purchase
the airport or risk upsetting the area's eco-
nomic growth and stability. The real question
is how much that economic stability--Austin
Executive Airport--will be worth to the City
forty years hence--$500 million, $1 billion,
even more? It's hard to say, yet relative to my
$35 million outlay, I anticipate that construct-
ing Austin Executive Airport will benefit my
sons as the best investment I've made in my
A Problem-Solver By Nature
The final reason I started this project was
the challenge itself.
It's in my nature to solve problems and
building an airport of this magnitude was noth-
ing so much as a series of challenges: logisti-
cal contests and legal battles and construction
snafus. At the same time, part of the allure was
not knowing what lay ahead, not knowing with
any certainty who was willing to sell their land,
what engineering and construction mishaps
might threaten the project, when energy com-
panies and pipeline operators and even per-
mitting officials would draw a line in the sand,
and where I would locate the financial, engi-
neering, and management resources to make
sound decisions on my behalf.
Each of these unknowables was a problem
waiting to be solved.
I am very much drawn to the process of
solving problems. I have a good friend, Terry
Ellstrom, who is much the same, who sees
the occasional wrong turn or accident as an
opportunity to find a unique way of moving
Terry and I come from different back-
grounds--he a retired drilling engineer, I a
telecommunications executive and airport
developer--yet we share an unusual passion
for conquering, or at a minimum circumvent-
ing, the unexpected. We also share a passion
for riding motorcycles.
I recall a time years ago when Terry and I
and a third friend, Michael Leebron, a Hous-
ton attorney, were on a long off-road motor-