The Lost Nation Airport strides the border between Mentor and Willoughby.
However, the city of Mentor doesn't own or operate it. For now, the city of Willoughby is the airport's sponsor. But the Lake County Port Authority has submitted paperwork, asking if it could become its sponsor, and it's expecting a response in the next two months, LCPA Executive Director John Loftus said.
But, regardless of who is ultimately responsible for the airport, its uncertain future is sure to have an impact on the city of Mentor.
So City Council and administration had a work session, led by Ward 3 Councilman Bruce Landeg, Tuesday at to discuss both its and the airport's options.
Landeg said the airport's future looks bleak. It houses 73 aircraft, which is fewer than a third of when the airport reached its peak in 1989.
"No wonder Willoughy wants out of the aviation business," Landeg said. "It's a shrinking entity."
To that end, the city of Willoughby stopped accepting Airport Improvement Program grants from the FAA 16 years ago. If an airport accepts AIP money, it has to remain an airport for at least 20 years as part of the deal.
However, even after the 20 years elapse -- as is about to happen at Lost Nation -- there is still no guarantee the FAA will allow an airport to close without a legal battle and it takes an act of Congress to overrule them, otherwise.
Loftus spoke at the work session on behalf of the LCPA. When asked why either they or the city of Willoughby didn't simply try to close down the airport in four years, Loftus replied, "What we don't want to do is get into a multi-year legal battle with the FAA and Department of Justice. That's what we'll get if we say we want to shut the thing down."
Instead, the LCPA -- assuming it can and does become the airport's sponsor -- would like to close one of the two airport's runways and use the additional property that would open up to attract light industrial development.
The airport already houses some nonaviation businesses. In fact, 47 percent of its revenue comes from the Lost Nation Sports Bar, Landeg said.
However, before the airport can close a runway, it would need the FAA's approval. And, to get that, the airport's sponsor would need to create a master plan for it. The master plan could cost between $150,000 and $200,000 to make, Loftus said.
While Loftus and Landeg both agree on the general plan of closing a runway and introducing light manufacturing, they do disagree on one point.
The LCPA has said, if made the airport's sponsor, they may pursue AIP money to help them improve the airport. Landeg is concerned that will put them on the hook for another 20 years.
Ron Traub, the city of Mentor's economic development director, pointed out a potential flaw in the plan. He said the repurposed airport might have trouble attracting manufacturers and other businesses because plenty of other space is already available in the area.
"There's very little demand," he said.
Mentor City Manager Kenneth Filipiak noted that people might be too negative in their approach to the airport. He said they needed to decide if it is a nuisance or a regional asset.
"Let's not lose sight of the fact that this is a unique piece of infrastructure," Filipiak said.
He added that, if the airport were to close, there would be no way to bring it back later.