By Lyra Bordelon
The opening of the new Aviators restaurant, the replacement of the entrance sign, and ongoing and potential new projects were considered by the Greenbrier County Airport Authority during their meeting on Tuesday, October 20.
With a sign placed out front declaring “Aviators” will open “soon,” the Greenbrier Valley Airport will soon be offering home-cooking style food to travelers and the Greenbrier Valley at large. Since the airport signed a lease with Shonet Holley last week, she has suffered a setback or two, but still expects to open the new restaurant soon.
“She was in an accident,” explained Airport Manager Brian Belcher. “She has a broken arm, but that’s not slowing her down.”
Since the lease was signed, interviews and progress on the restaurant has barreled forward, with much of the staff already onboard.
“She hired her crew,” noted Airport Finance Director Martha Livesay. “She was doing interviews on Saturday. She hired a bartender, a pro cook, and a couple of servers. She has a food list that’s coming. … She had new shirts made for them. They look nice – white with black writing, having [employees] wear black pants, and her masks. It’s very organized.”
Another speed bump also emerged from a liquor license previously issued to the airport.
“What’s really slowing her down is we had just gotten the liqueur license for this restaurant and she can’t get hers until we relinquish that,” Belcher said. “We filled out the paper work [on Monday, October 19]. … She has been in here cleaning and getting things ready.”
Although it could take over 30 days for the license to be ready, Belcher anticipates the restaurant will be open to the public before long.
The Greenbrier Valley Airport sign located on Route 219 might not be around for much longer, with the board considering its replacement in the near future.
“Our guys were out taking off the Landings Restaurant sign and found out [it needs to be replaced],” Belcher said. “One of the guys put his hand on the sign and part came off because it’s rotten all the way through. We need to have a discussion about what … direction you would like to go.”
The possibilities ranged from big, classic sign made out of brick, wood, or plastics to having two signs, one like what is currently there and another electronic sign for advertising and highlighting the area. Boardmember Tammy Shiflett-Tincher also noted the need for the sign to point to the industrial park and the numerous businesses operating there, such as the Greenbrier Valley Brewery and Smooth Ambler Spirits.
“We have flights coming in and out of here, they don’t know changes to our schedule,” said Airport Authority Chairperson Deborah Phillips. “The restaurant could be advertised on that, the specials. It’s an expense, right, we don’t have a lot of traffic, but you’d be surprised what the traffic is here locally.”
The discussions are far from finalized, and will be further considered in future meetings.
“It’s more of … how well you want to be represented in the community, what impression you want to have on everybody else,” Belcher said.
The possibility of a new entrance to the airport was floated but not seriously acted on by the authority. Examining a very preliminary sketch of a roundabout in the entrance, the board considered what the airport’s current entrance looks like.
“It’s a little … convoluted, multiple directions going multiple ways,” explained Jon McCalmont with Parrish & Partners. “[The roundabout] will get everybody down to one direction at one location. … It still has access to the full sized delivery trucks to [get around], it maintains the three lanes of the parking lot. The space for the terminal building, that will still be your one way in and then you’re one way out are still the way they are today. You will lose a couple of existing parking spots [about 10 to 12].”
McCalmont estimated the cost, depending on the extra possible features, to around $150,000 to $200,000.
“My off the cuff response is I think we have so many other things to spend that money on, this is like fancy money,” Boardmember Greg Furlong. “I’ve never been insulted by the entrance or the exit. I’ve never thought once ‘gosh this is confusing.’”
Several boardmembers and Belcher seemed to agree, with Belcher noting this could move forward if grant funds could be utilized.
Work to install a new beacon on the airport’s tower has been delayed due to the inability of non-tower workers to enter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Access to the tower is still restricted,” McCalmont explained. “We’re going to be coordinating with the contractor to do as much as he physically can do within the bounds of state liability.”
“The FAA has really cracked down on their tower contractors, or anyone else, being inside their towers because … they had to close the Richmond tower because someone had contracted COVID there. They had to close it and do a complete cleaning. There was another airport, Norfolk, so they’ve really [cracked down].”
An ongoing taxiway lighting construction project is coming along, with the “majority of the road now finished,” according to McCalmont. Currently the project is projected to come in under budget, despite adding work to fix a complication.
“While the project was going on, one of the conduits fell and we had a sink … on the taxiway pavement,” Belcher explained. “They were doing work in that area anyway, so Jon has worked out a plan where we can repair that within the project. … There’s no change order.”
In other business:
• The airport’s 2019 and 2020 FAA inspections have been closed with only two findings – “the painting of the airfield and the calibration on the break unit,” explained Belcher. Since then, some employees have been trained, the equipment recalibrated, and additional work on the airfield.
• Material donated from the airport to the Greenbrier County Sportsplex has temporarily stopped being transported in order to allow the Sportsplex contractors a chance to utilize the material already on site. Belcher anticipates a week delay.
• Passenger traffic is slightly down since last month, an expected annual drop around the time the school year begins.