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Chapter 13 - Reports and Memorandums

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Reports and Memorandums

Airport Manager Report dated 18 May 1956
To the Chairman of the Airport Advisory Committee
Grand Prix Races

    Bearing in mind that the fundamental policies that were responsible for the establishment of the municipal operation of the airport as an agency to advance the interests of all of the citizens and businesses of the community, we have consistently tried to cooperate with the Grand Prix Race Committee each year, even though we have lacked specific instructions from the Council and even though each running has cost the Terminal quite a neat sum.  Until this year, we have seen very few days in which the Terminal might recover any part of these costs.

    At the fifth race, held on 24 March 1956, 157 airplanes landed and a number of them took on gasoline and oil here on which we made a small profit.  One of the contestants has become interested in our plan and MAY build a small plant here for manufacturing purposes.  He has made arrangements to lease a small building and some apartments, by the year, the latter to accommodate his racing crews and personnel of his northern plants who may be vacationing in Florida.

    Another contestant rented space for a week for servicing his cars but the most valuable result of the race this year came when the Corvette people rented space for servicing their cars and testing them.  For two months, they maintained a payroll of approximately $1,700 per week in addition to thousands of dollars spent with businessmen and hotels.

    It is our opinion that the management has been responsible for the fact that the Terminal has not profited to a greater degree than it has from the hundreds of people who annually visit the property.  No more that a casual effort has been made to present an attractive appearance that would look inviting to those who might be interested.  A study of the list of participants in the 1956 contest revealed the fact that several of the owners and/or drivers were executives in manufacturing firms in the north, some of whom may now or later, be interested in a Florida plant.  So, we see here, an opportunity to advertise our advantages to some who may be prospects.  By the same token, many pictures are taken of the races and, in the past, it would hardly be possible to take a picture without showing some uncut weeds, abandoned flues, sagging roofs or some other unattractive view that gave the impression of an abandoned property.  To change this condition, it will take a year round effort and will cost some money but will offer the only way in which the Terminal will profit.

    For the past two years, the City has given some help with our expense problem by sending help from the Street Department and the Golf Course to help cut the weeds before the race and to do a small part of the cleanup after the event.  We feel that this effort should be expanded to cover all of the work that the City is expected to perform for this is the public that benefits most from the races.

    One item of expense that is not inconsiderable is that of electric power.  All of the high wattage lamps on the course, in the pits, in the hangars used for servicing, in the concessions, as well as the heating elements in the concessions, are on un-metered services and, hence are the expense of the Terminal.

    It is not too early to plan for the 1957 race.  In thinking about this, we should consider that we have, in the past, furnished a large building for use by contestants for working on their cars.  This year, we moved a tenant out of the small hangar to make some room but we expect to have this and all other buildings in use that will not permit it to be used by the race.  The Firemen have proposed to pave one of their County Fair buildings so that it may be used by racing cars but this will be so far away from the course that it may not be entirely satisfactory.  It would seem that after observing five running’s of this event and in the light of its increasing, international recognition and importance, some provision of a permanent nature should be made to accommodate the contest cars.

A Memorandum

    The following memorandum from the Airport Advisory Committee was directed to the City Council in 1958, after the City had received several offers from outside interests to take over the operation of the field and to pay the city for the franchise.  At the time, a new day was dawning and prospects for success were becoming brighter.

    The memorandum was signed by the Airport Advisory Committee.

- - - - -

    The Airport Advisory Committee, which will hereafter be referred to as “we,” has made an extensive inquiry into the history and present operations of the Sebring Airport as time would permit, and our conclusions, which will be set forth, represent our sincere and unanimous opinion as to the best way to preserve this great city asset.  It was not our responsibility or assignment to determine the causes for the present conditions at the airport, and therefore the review of the past was made solely with the idea of arriving at ways and means to safeguard the future.  That many mistakes have been made is obvious, but that should have been expected under the circumstances as they have existed heretofore, and it is not our purpose to fix responsibility for these errors.  We therefore pick up the problem as it exists, and our studies have centered upon what to do next.

    We would like to express our gratitude to Mr. Allen Altvater for his full and eager cooperation in giving us information to further our studies.

    Our first conclusion is that the proposal that is currently before the Council, namely to lease the airport in its entirety to a private enterprise, should be declined in its present form.  At the same time, we feel that the presentation of such a proposal has served a very worthy purpose, and the men who presented it should be thanked for focusing the attention of the City and its executives upon the need for a completely new method of supervising its management.

    Apparently, for many years the benefits which have accrued to Sebring from the possession of this great civic asset have been taken for granted, and means to preserve its value have unfortunately been overlooked.

    In our opinion, it is too much to expect a City Council made up of volunteer citizens to give more time and study than they have to the intricate management problems of such a large and complex enterprise, even though it is of such high potential and vital importance to Sebring.

    As to the present condition of the airport, it is clear that the physical properties are deteriorating seriously and that it has not been possible, with the resources at hand, to keep the buildings in an adequate state of repair and suitable for the secure operation of the businesses now established at the airport.  These businesses, in the aggregate, employ in excess of 430 people, residents of our community who build homes and spend their incomes with local business establishments.  To illustrate the magnitude of the advantages which accrue to the business and professional people of this area, we point out that the yearly payroll at the airport now exceeds $1,400,000.  It should be noted that an additional benefit to the people of Sebring is the income which avalanches through a short period in the spring, which we feel amounts to at least a half million dollars.  This figure represents only the probable amounts spent in Sebring by those who attend the races -- for food, lodgings, and other purposes made from local merchants.  There are countless other fringe benefits and direct monetary returns, the total of which it would be impossible to compute.

    Part of the studies has included an investigation of the airport at Sarasota which was acquired from the government under like circumstances and on a similar basis to the way in which Sebring Air Terminal was acquired.  Our inquiry revealed that the facilities are similar; with some “pluses” and “minuses,” and that the airport at Sarasota is operating very successfully, maintaining itself, and building up cash reserves.  They have, in fact, undertaken an expansion program and they are receiving assistance in this matter from the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

    It is the considered opinion of this committee that immediate steps must be taken if our great asset is to survive.  We are confident that it can, if a governing body is established which will have the time and authority to carry out a maintenance and development program.  It will need financing at the beginning, but, in our opinion, it can be self-sustaining after the facilities at the airport are rehabilitated.

    By rehabilitation, we mean that ways must be found to put the present buildings in safe and usable condition and that thereafter they must be insured, to protect the City from fire, windstorm, etc.  Also, this restoration should take place in the interests of good faith in the present leaseholders so that their businesses may continue safely and uninterrupted which in turn is to the mutual advantage of the industries involved and the community as well.  As a matter of fact, the City already has contractual obligations to the tenants to maintain the properties.  It is obvious that this maintenance to date has been inadequate.

    In order to bring about a secure, continuous and sound administration of the airport, not only for its restoration but also for its future development, we propose and urge that a body be established to be known as the Airport Authority, to consist of five experienced businessmen: that this body be established immediately by city ordinance, and subsequently made permanent by a legislative act; that this Airport Authority have the responsibility for supervising the management and establishing policy; that it be empowered to seek out and attract to Sebring enterprises which would be a credit to the city and valuable in creating employment for many of our young people who are now obligated to establish themselves elsewhere; that it be empowered to negotiate leases and otherwise act as a Board of Directors, as nearly as that is possible within the structure of a publicly-owned enterprise.  The members of this Authority, after the first rotation, should hold office for a minimum of five years, so that at all times there will exist the benefit of years of experience in directing this undertaking.

    As stated, some moneys will be needed for immediate repairs and restoration, and this should be secured either through loans from the City or by a modest mileage tax which need not be a burden in view of the large returns to the tax payers through the aforementioned direct and indirect benefits which accrue to this community.  Already the taxpayers have been spared considerable expense by the acquisition of materials and equipment from the airport which, if purchased, would have been paid through the general fund.

    If the forgoing suggestion for an Airport Authority is not acceptable, then, in our opinion, there is only one alternative.  That would be for the City to draw up detailed specifications as to what it would like to have accomplished at and for the airport, and through advertising, call for public bids from private industry to take it over according to detailed specifications.

    To permit the airport to continue as it is now will, in our opinion, lead only to a further deterioration of the properties and it cannot possibly attract new industries, new payrolls, and the desirable results which the people of Sebring would welcome or expect.

    The foregoing is the considered opinion of this body, and we trust that it will be useful in formulating plans for making Sebring flourish.

Memorandum From The Airport Advisory Committee
to the Sebring City Council - 1/29/1959

    In order that the annual Grand Prix Race continue and develop from year to year in a manner that is fair and beneficial to all concerned and under conditions which will build goodwill and better friendship, the Airport Advisory Committee recommends that the existing lease between the City of Sebring and the Sebring Firemen, Inc., be continued for its duration.  However, we would be remiss in the execution of our duties unless we insist on the Firemen carrying out all of their contractual obligations outlined in the lease dated February 5, 1957.

    The integrity of the airport must be maintained and improved if it is to develop and flourish along desired lines.  Therefore, we propose the following:

1.       That the Firemen continue as the lessee in the existing lease provided they fulfill the requirements outlined therein.

2.       That the Airport fund be reimbursed for damages caused by crowds and campers prior to and during last year’s race.

3.       That adequate comprehensive general liability insurance coverage and property insurance coverage be carried in such amounts as to cover the requirements of Articles 5 and 6 of the lease.  This insurance coverage should be in effect for the entire race period and must not be limited to the actual “running of the race.”

4.       That the Airport fund be reimbursed promptly for cost of all services requested or required in connection with all pre-race preparations or unusual expenses incurred during or as a result of the race.

5.       That the lessee be held responsible for cleaning up after the race and that the airport premises and property be returned in its previous condition.

6.       That the Committee be given the opportunity to approve all schedules for practice runs and to approve or establish airport surface traffic rules which the lessee will enforce.

7.       That the Committee will insist that every possible consideration be given to maintain the rights of present tenants so as to permit free access to their property and to provide maximum protection from trespassers.

8.       That the pre-race activities be limited to the general area of the pits, grandstands and straight portion of ramp and that only cars entered in the race are to be allowed on the race course.  Runways must remain free and clear unless field is closed.

9.       That the housing area be adequately fenced to prevent trespassing prior to and during the race period.

10.     That all fences, buildings, platforms, sand piles, etcetera, be constructed with the consent of the Committee, as provided for in Article 7 of the lease.

11.     That no airport camping be permitted except in an isolated area enclosed and supervised to permit proper control and supervision.  This area should provide facilities for campers (water, fuel, toilets).

12.     Greatly improved toilet facilities are required which will be sanitary and adequate.

13.     Greater supervision is required to prevent damage to property and injury to spectators with “steeplejack” ambitions.

14.     One runway should be kept clear for operation of aircraft -or- no takeoffs or landings should be permitted while the race is in progress.  NO TAMS.

15.     No drag races or practice for such races are to be permitted at any time.

16.     Any other item which should be required to maintain the Airport or the property of tenants intact.

                                                                                     AIRPORT ADVISORY COMMITTEE

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