SMO — Jets are still landing on the wide, black runway at the Santa Monica Airport but some residents are already making comparisons to Griffith Park.

Airport2Park, a group advocating — as the name suggests — to turn the airport into a park, met last week to talk about the financial feasibility of turning the tarmac green.

City Hall is currently locked in a legal battle with the Federal Aviation Administration over the future of the airport (last week the FAA filed a response to City Hall’s response to FAA’s response to City Hall’s lawsuit) and park advocates are watching closely. City Hall wants the right to close the airport but the FAA says they can’t.

In the meantime, advocates for the park say $6 million could be raised annually from rents.

“At present we are obliged to rent out airport buildings at below market cost as a result of restrictions imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1984,” said David Goddard, the chairman of the Airport Commission. “I estimate that when those leases run out in 2015 and we can charge current rents for the buildings, there’ll be at least $6 million available, which should be more than enough to cover the costs of maintaining the park.”

The cost of building the park could come from state and federal cash, said Esther Feldman, president of Community Conservation Solutions. She has generated more than $3 billion for parks in Southern California according to a release from the Aiport2Park group.

“Cities increasingly need wild places where we let nature reclaim our over-organized environment,” she said. “The airport park may be in Santa Monica, but if we promote it as an asset for the whole region like Griffith Park or The Presidio in San Francisco it could attract both California and national funds.”

She urged advocates to “think big.”

They may have to: the recently completed Tongva Park cost City Hall $43 million.

Philanthropists and nonprofits might also be interested in funding a park, said Neil Carrey, former chair of the Recreation and Parks Commission.

Former Santa Monica Mayor Mike Feinstein chaired the event.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” he said. “I think tonight’s panel has proved that.”

One low-cost model would include simply closing the airport and opening the runway to residents as a park space. This was done at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, said the event’s moderator Frank Gruber.

Gruber noted that the biggest cost, the real estate, was paid for more than a hundred years ago when City Hall bought the land.

“Most of the green space on the Westside consists of private golf courses which ordinary people can’t use,” he said.

City Hall and Airport2Park advocates say that the contract with the FAA expires July 1 of next year. The FAA maintain that it’s 2023. This is one of many details the two sides are arguing over in the ongoing litigation.

 

dave@smdp.com

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