SEBASTIAN — A Sebastian-based aviation business is ready to move into a not-yet-constructed $1.45 million hangar the City of Sebastian will be building with mostly state dollars.
For $290,000 in matching funds, the City of Sebastian has accepted a $1.16 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to build a hangar at the city airport. Airport Director Joe Griffin said that regardless of the tenant waiting in the wings, the city could have gone ahead and allocated the nearly $300,000 and built a hangar on spec.
Griffin said, prior to striking a lease with V-Raptor Aircraft LLC, he had spoken with six or seven prospective tenants, showing them around the municipal airport. He said his preference would have been to have a tenant prior to building – which is now the case with V-Raptor and the state funding.
The Sebastian City Council approved shifting $290,000 from its discretionary sales tax fund to the airport’s fund to match the grant.
The initial lease is for 15 years with an option to extend another five years. Rent would be $2 per square foot. How large the hangar would be is not yet determined, though V-Raptor CEO Scott Baker has asked for about 18,000 square feet with taxiway access.
V-Raptor Managing Member and Chief Technology Officer Jeff Kerlo told the city council that his business is invested in making the venture a success, having already put about $1 million into acquiring equipment and leasing space at the former Ford Wire building on 130th Street in Sebastian.
V-Raptor creates kit planes and assists in the building of the aircraft. Builder-assisted assembly and sales would take place at the Sebastian Airport, while the manufacturing of the parts would occur off-site at the Ford Wire building.
Along with offering kit planes, Kerlo said that the company plans to diversify and hopes to land a military contract. V-Raptor has also been approached by a commercial space endeavor that could offer space flight services.
Griffin said that with the approval of the matching funds for the state grant, construction could begin by mid-November on the new hangar and be ready for move-in by May 1.
“That’s very optimistic,” Griffin said, but, “I know I can pull it off.”
The hangar is expected to be very similar to the LoPresti hangar, which was built in a similar fashion using city-matched grant funding.
Griffin said the main difference between the two hangars, he hopes, would be the inclusion of more “green” materials to reduce the environmental impact of the building.
While the lease agreement and subsequent funding were ultimately approved unanimously by the City Council, the issues faced pointed questions from Councilman Eugene Wolff.
Wolff expressed concerns that not enough information was known about the privately-held company and that the company might not be able to fulfill its obligations.
“You could get cash at ‘Easy Check'” with the documentation presented, Wolff said. “We’re good-natured people.”
He added that the council often takes people at their word, but the council has a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of the city.
Wolff pointed to the issue the city has had recently with LoPresti Aviation, which requested earlier this year to hold off on making rent payments for nine months due to the downturn in the aviation market.
Kerlo told the council that his company – and investor – are committed to meeting their obligations and does not foresee an issue making their rent payments.
Kerlo expects to hire about 30 people to high-tech jobs once the company is fully operational at the airport, he told the council.
Sales for the company could be between $10 million and $12 million annually, Kerlo said, noting that the figure is an estimate based on the competition.
Other members of council expressed support for the tenant and wished V-Raptor success.
Councilman Don Wright said that bringing the tenant to the airport is part of what the city has been working on to stimulate the economy.
“The risk to the city is very small,” he said, noting that if V-Raptor were to fail, the city could lease the hangar to another firm.
“We don’t know what will happen in the future,” Councilwoman Andrea Coy said. “We have to trust.”