Government & Politics  December 27, 2023

Study presents options for Northern Colorado airport governance

LOVELAND – A study of how Northern Colorado Regional Airport is governed recommends either creation of an airport authority, formation of a special district or the withdrawal of the city of Fort Collins as a partner in favor of control by Loveland.

The 15-page report, compiled by Denver-based Daniel S. Reimer LLC after interviews with airport stakeholders and officials from the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland, which co-own the airport, was sent to the cities’ mayors, city managers, city attorneys and council members on Oct. 30 and released to BizWest on Tuesday.

The three final recommendations were selected out of 12 “viable options” in the report, which ranged from leaving the current governance model in place to full privatization.

The cities need to discuss and select the option they favor, Reimer told BizWest on Wednesday, adding that it was not the consultant’s job to dictate one of the choices.

The report was ordered last summer after months of contention among members of the two city councils and the airport’s governing commission itself over issues such as the safety of general-aviation hangars, construction of a $22 million terminal without scheduled passenger airline service having been secured, alleged preferential treatment for one commercial tenant over another, and whether to stick with an experimental remote air-traffic control system or construct a traditional bricks-and-mortar tower. Also creating conflict is the fact that, even though both cities own the airport, it lies within the city limits of Loveland, which has land-use and building-code jurisdiction and benefits from taxation.

About the only thing the city officials the consultant interviewed could agree on, the report said, was that the current governance model isn’t working.

Since adoption of an intergovernmental agreement in January 2015, Northern Colorado Regional Airport has been governed by a seven-member commission consisting of government and citizen representatives of both cities. With input from the airport’s professional staff, the commission can make general decisions about the facility’s operation but must get approval from both city councils for major expenditures.

A longstanding concern with joint ownership by Fort Collins and Loveland, the report noted, is that, “regardless of the precise scope of day-to-day responsibilities delegated to a commission or staff, it remains cumbersome to seek and obtain approval from both cities on policy-level and ‘big ticket’ items. Also of concern is the fact that the current approach necessarily means that decision-making and information about the airport is widely and unevenly dispersed among elected officials and staff of the two cities, members of the commission, and the professional airport staff. This has led to continuing debate about the appropriate allocation of responsibility and whether those asked to make decisions are up-to-speed and fully equipped to do so.”

The consultant outlined various permutations of the three recommended options:

Airport authority

The cities could abolish the current commission and create an airport authority as a separate political subdivision, but remain co-sponsors for purposes of federal-grant agreements. The advantages would be increased efficiency, a definitive solution to joint ownership, and continued influence by the cities through appointments of board members. The disadvantages to the cities would be loss of direct control and financial backstop.

Another variable would be creating a “municipal authority,” which was imposed at the airport in 1983 but rejected by 1990. Under this model, the cities would retain ownership but delegate responsibility to the newly created entity for operating and improving the airport.

A third option, the consultant said, would be for Fort Collins and Loveland to lobby for a change in the Colorado Public Airport Authority Act that would allow the cities to transfer ownership and  control to an airport authority without having to serve as co-sponsors. The report acknowledged that this option would present many uncertainties, including whether the Federal Aviation Administration would support it.

The airport authority would have to apply to the FAA for a new Airport Operating Certificate to  accommodate commercial passenger service, consistent with the current Airport plans. 

The airport authority would have to hire or contract for its own support services such as human  resources, legal support and law enforcement, the consultant said.

Special district

Under a blueprint currently being used by airports in the California cities of Monterey and Truckee but untested so far in Colorado, the state Legislature could be asked to create a special district with taxing powers, rather than an airport authority as outlined in current state law.

“Establishing a special district through airport-specific legislation would allow the Legislature to compose the governing body in a way that best reflects the longstanding interests of the cities,” Reimer wrote, and “delegate specific powers to the district, such as the power to impose taxes, not available to airport authorities.” He wrote that “it could constitute the district in such a way that the FAA would not require the cities to remain co-sponsors.”

Fort Collins divestiture

In what the consultant called “in some ways, the most straightforward option,” one city could transfer its ownership interest in the airport to the other city. The city of Loveland would be a good candidate, the report said, since it currently provides most of the airport’s central support services, and the facility is within Loveland’s city limits and surrounded by Loveland neighbors.

Other options in this model would be for the cities to turn the airport over to Fort Collins, which is the larger of the two cities and has a larger staff and budget, or to divest themselves of the airport altogether and transfer authority to Larimer County, “which represents the broader constituency of airport users and those impacted by the airport.” The consultant noted, however, that the county “is not presently part of airport governance” and “has no experience in managing” the facility. 

Turning the airport over to Fort Collins, he wrote, “does not recognize Loveland’s historical and currently active role in managing and supporting” the airport.” He noted that even with Fort Collins ownership, “Loveland would retain taxing and land-use jurisdiction” and that “neighbors in Loveland might feel loss of representation.”

Reimer wrote that “in order to identify the nature and extent of concerns with the current governance structure,” he conducted  interviews with each of the seven Fort Collins City Council members on Sept. 6 and Sept. 7, and nine Loveland council members on Sept. 13 and Sept. 15. He noted that “there appears to be consensus that the current governance structure is not working,” and that “both cities agree that Loveland has greater influence over airport-related matters and … derives greater benefit from the airport.”

He wrote that the cities don’t have a shared vision for the facility’s future, with Fort Collins officials seeing it more as a multimodal transit hub and Loveland leaders expressing more optimism about the airport’s ability to attract the return of scheduled commercial passenger service.

“There was virtually no support for the status quo” but also “no immediate consensus on an alternative governance structure,” Reimer wrote, adding that “some council members observed that this is not the highest priority item in the community, which may make it difficult to find the time and resources necessary to make a change.”

He said “there was some interest in transferring the airport to Loveland, but no interest in transferring the airport to Fort Collins.”

The cities jointly acquired roughly 1,000 acres of private property in 1964 to build the airport, which opened in 1965. For its first 14 years, it was managed with the assistance of a board including representatives from Fort Collins, Loveland and Larimer County. In 1979, that structure was converted to an ad hoc committee consisting of two council members and city managers of each city, and in 1983 the airport was managed with assistance of an airport authority – but unlike how other airport authorities operated in the state, the cities reserved considerable decision-making responsibilities. From 1990 until the current form of governance was established in 2015, the airport was managed by a “steering committee” with representation from both cities.

“A longstanding concern with joint ownership is that, regardless of the precise scope of day-to-day responsibilities delegated to a commission or staff, it remains cumbersome to seek and obtain approval from both cities on policy-level and ‘big ticket’ items,” Reimer wrote. “Also of  concern is the fact that the current approach necessarily means that decision-making and information about the airport is widely and unevenly dispersed among elected officials and staff of the two cities, members of the commission and the professional airport staff. This has led to continuing debate about the appropriate allocation of responsibility and whether those asked to make decisions are up-to-speed and fully equipped to do so.”

Reimer’s report concluded that Fort Collins and Loveland should “refine alternatives and identify an option for consideration and adoption by the city councils. Further coordination between the cities could include joint meetings of both city councils or meetings among council-appointed representatives. These discussions could be supported by cities’ staff, a facilitator or mediator, and myself.”

Reimer also recommended that “the cities should develop a public participation plan to solicit input from key stakeholders, including the airport commission, airport tenants and community members.”

Each of the cities appointed two members to a “governance committee” to study the report. The Loveland City Council chose Mayor Jacki Marsh and new council member Troy Krenning, both of whom also were named to the airport commission. Fort Collins’ council chose council member Julie Pignataro and Mayor Jeni Arndt, who has been chairing the commission meetings since former chair Don Overcash lost his bid Nov. 7 to remain on the Loveland council.

“The idea was to have a smaller group of individuals from each city, and not necessarily that they had to be board members,” Loveland City Manager Steve Adams told BizWest on Wednesday. “They will work along with their staffs to talk about those next steps, including how to proceed and how to start involving the airport’s stakeholders and the public.”

Adams, who manages administrative services provided by the City of Loveland to the airport,, said interim airport manager David Ruppel and his staff will work in January to get a meeting set up with the four-member committee “to try to talk about those next steps, then they’ll go back and talk to their individual councils. Maybe it would be a joint meeting with the two cities, but overall just helping us with the public-participation plan, and including the commission itself, tenants and community members – all the people who had been at our airport commission meetings.

“I‘m excited for the next steps here,” Adams said.

LOVELAND – A study of how Northern Colorado Regional Airport is governed recommends either creation of an airport authority, formation of a special district or the withdrawal of the city of Fort Collins as a partner in favor of control by Loveland.

The 15-page report, compiled by Denver-based Daniel S. Reimer LLC after interviews with airport stakeholders and officials from the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland, which co-own the airport, was sent to the cities’ mayors, city managers, city attorneys and council members on Oct. 30 and released to BizWest on Tuesday.

The three final recommendations were selected out of 12…

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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