News Article | 7/8/2008

S.B. airport expects expansion to spark retail development nearby

Property around the former Norton Air Force Base is expected to begin attracting retail and other commercial development projects within next three to five years as the San Bernardino International Airport grows, according to airport officials.

Open parcels along Third and Fifth streets, along with some select properties along Tippecanoe Avenue, should start attracting restaurants and convenience stores, said Bill Ingraham, the airport’s aviation director.

Nearby retail areas, such as Hospitality Lane in San Bernardino and the unincorporated area in Redlands that includes Citrus Plaza, will probably attract more commercial development before the airport does, Ingraham said.

“There are so many factors involved, and you already have an area to the south, Hospitality Lane, which serves that area. But there’s no question we’re going to start to see more commercial development closer to the airport,” Ingraham said.

“I don’t expect to see large stores, but I think you’ll see smaller convenience stores that people will be able to get in and out of quickly.”

Officials with the San Bernardino International Airport Authority hope to be operating commercial flights out of the airport by the end of this year, said Michael Burrows, the authority’s assistant director.

Originally, commercial flights out of the former military base were to have started this summer, but those plans were postponed when it became clear the airport’s commercial terminal wouldn’t be ready in time.

But the introduction of commercial flights won’t lead to an immediate flurry of commercial and retail development, Burrows said.

“We aren’t going to start with 50 flights a day, we’re going to start with five flights a day and work up from there,” Burrows said. “Once we get to 50 flights then there will be a serious impetus for hotels and restaurants and the things you usually see around an airport. But in the short term I think there are enough services in the area to meet the immediate needs.”

Burrows agreed that Third and Fifth streets and parts of Tippecanoe Avenue are likely to attract the most commercial development, though he cautioned that the airport alone won’t be the only factor driving development in that market.

The owner of the lone retail establishment at the airport says he would like to see more development enter the neighborhood, even if it means competition for his business.

“We’re in kind of a hidden place, and I think if we had more restaurants and other business here it could help us,” said Bruce C. Lee, owner of the Airport Express Café, 157 S. Del Rosa Drive. “A McDonald’s, a KFC and an In-N-Out Burger, something like that, we could all help each other out.”

Lee opened the 4,000-square-foot eatery at San Bernardino International Airport in October 2005.

It is the only retail establishment on the former military base, Ingraham said.

The closest thing the café has to competition is a gas station with a mini-mart about a half-mile away.

Mary Sexton, a manager at the café for the past two and a half years, said she would also welcome the extra customers that a commercial airline terminal would bring to the area.

“I would love to see it happen, but I’m a little worried about them putting up a fence for security, which might keep people away,” Sexton said. “That’s the kind of thing they do these days. But it would bring more people into the area, and maybe we would get a nice hotel out of it.”