Google This: San Jose Airport Soars

San Jose Airport development The Registry real estate

By Sharon Simonson

A partnership involving a Florida-based operator of on-airport facilities and Google Inc. executives is proposing an $82 million investment for the west side of the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport to deliver service to private jets and business aircraft.

The 29-acre operation, which would be built on land leased from the city, would include a 17,000 square-foot terminal, 240,000 square feet of hangar space and an 18.5-acre aircraft ramp, according to city documents.

Signature Flight Support and Blue City Holdings San Jose LLC, a corporation that represents the personal aircraft of Google principals, beat two competitors to be selected by city staff as the finalist. All three companies responded to a 2012 city request for proposals on developing the airport’s west side.

In a prepared statement, Maria Sastre, president and chief operating officer for Signature, described the San Jose airport as a “key location” in the company’s network of operations and promised a “state-of-the-art, world-class [fixed-base operation].”

“We are proud to bring all of the resources that Signature Flight Support can offer to further business and general aviation and our long-standing track record of good corporate citizenship to the San Jose and Silicon Valley communities,” she said.

The partnership is proposing a 50-year lease under which it would pay the airport $2.6 million in rent a year, or $130 million over the term of the agreement. The fixed-based operator also would guarantee fuel fees and taxes totaling another $770,000 a year. The ramp space would be generous enough to support the largest business jets, including the Boeing Business Jet 737 and Boeing B767, according to city records.

If approved, the glassy, Gensler-designed terminal and seven new hangars would join a growing body of new development on the airport’s western flank, an area transitioning from last-generation industrial use to an urban and transportation hub.

Hotel, real estate and sport-team magnate Lew Wolff has broken ground on an 18,000-seat stadium for his San Jose Earthquakes soccer team; the site fronts Coleman Avenue directly across from the airport close to the proposed terminal site. The city memorandum outlining Signature’s plans notes that the “Executive Terminal” includes a “VIP Center for high-profile customers and charters, including sports teams.”

On one side of the soccer stadium, Deke Hunter and Hunter Storm Development are finishing the 275,000-square-foot Coleman Landing, a Lowe’s-anchored suburban shopping center. On the other, Hunter Storm plans a 1.75 million-square-foot office park, Coleman Highline.

The Caltrain commuter rail marks the rear boundary of all three sites, and a station that would also serve Caltrain and a proposed BART extension is planned nearby.

San Jose undertook a massive expansion and upgrade to Norman Y. Mineta during the dot-com boom. The vision was scaled back during the subsequent bust in the early days of the last decade. But the years have still been hard on the airport. News of Signature’s proposal, which estimates more than three times the projected investment as the next largest offer, comes as San Jose has learned that both Delta Air Lines and Virgin America are initiating service from the airport.

Signature is also a world-class company. It is owned by BBA Aviation plc, a publicly traded British company tha provides aviation support and aftermarket services. Signature is the largest fixed-base airport operator in the world with 113 locations on five continents. U.S. airports where it does business include San Francisco, Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway, Dallas Love Field, Boston’s Logan International and Houston Hobby.

City staff is expected to refine the Signature proposal, which will now wend its way through a Community and Economic Development Committee meeting and an Airport Commission meeting before being presented to the San Jose City Council in early spring. According to the staff report signed by William F. Sherry, the city’s longstanding aviation director, the staff will recommend the city award the ground lease and operating permit to Signature. Design and construction could start as early as this summer.

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