Wal-Mart comes to Iowa City Airport

With the exception of “airport expansion,” the phrase that draws the non-flying public to city council meetings is “Wal-Mart wants to locate here.”

That’s what brought at least 20 citizens in Iowa City, Iowa, to a March 1 City Council meeting to express objections to the location of a Wal-Mart Supercenter store on land purchased from Iowa Municipal Airport (IOW).

During the meeting, the City Council accepted a purchase offer for the sale of some 22 acres of airport property to a company acting on Wal-Mart’s behalf. The property, located on the north end of the airport, was previously considered for an airport industrial park. However, that development never happened.

“The FAA gave the city permission to sell the land,” noted Sue Duleck, assistant city attorney for Iowa City. She noted the Federal Emergency Management Agency also must approve the sale because it involves adjusting a flood plain boundary.

Proceeds of the $3.1 million sale go into the airport’s coffers.

Most pilots in the area support the sale because it will wipe out the airport’s debt to the city, noted Jay Honeck, a local pilot, business owner and a member of a pro-airport group, Friends of the Iowa City Airport. This means revenue generated on the airport, such as hangar rents and land lease payments, will be used for the airport’s day-to-day operations.

“Many people in the community felt the airport was a welfare case on the edge of town,” he said. “With this sale we will be self-supporting, perhaps the only self-supporting airport in the state of Iowa.”

The sale comes with some contingencies. For example, the city has to rezone the land from intensive commercial to community commercial property, which means that a retail business can locate there. A road in the area also will have to be relocated at Wal-Mart’s expense.

“They will also pay for a traffic signal and $100,000 for off-site improvements needed for the relocation of the road,” said Duleck.

Some citizens opposed the sale, not because it involved the airport, but because Wal-Mart has a reputation for paying its employees low wages, providing poor healthcare benefits and undercutting small businesses in the community.

But those arguments are “kind of silly,” Honeck said, noting there is already a Wal-Mart adjacent to the property.

“The Supercenter Wal-Mart will just be bigger than the one already there,” he said.

No date has been given for the start of construction, however the pending sale requires Wal-Mart to obtain a building permit within two years and to begin construction within four years.

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