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Airport gives social events second look
The Glynn County Airport Commission says it's addressing a two-year-old issue surrounding a policy that bans tenants, much to their dismay, from hosting certain events on airport property.

Airport tenants are concerned with the policy, which prohibits non-aeronautical use on aeronautical property.

Hillary Stringfellow, a lawyer whose firm represents the commission, said during a meeting of airport operations and the executive committee Wednesday that the issue has a nickname.

"This has sort of become known as the 'Friday Lunch Issue,'" she said.

That's because Renn Gruber, owner of Gruber Aviation at McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport, was told in late 2010 that free lunches he hosted for presentations on civic issues at his hangar each Friday were not an appropriate use of aviation property. Guests included members of Congress.

Gruber's last lunch was held in October, after Glynn County Airport Executive Director Steve Brian told him that an update in the special events policy would require him to pay a $100 application fee in addition to a $50 fee for each lunch hosted on airport grounds.

The airport commission wants to find a way to allow the lunches to continue but faces a challenge in applying all leases equally. Federal Aviation Administration rules require consistent enforcement.

Commissioners could choose to fine leaseholders who host events unrelated to aviation for being in violation of their lease, amend leases or tweak its special events policy to allow for exceptions.

The policy reviewed Wednesday by the operations and executive committee calls for an application fee and requires fair market value be paid to the airport for non-aviation events.

Committee members agreed to adjust the policy to exempt military events and include a provision that will give the commission discretion in determining which applicants must pay a fee and which events can be hosted on airport property.

Some commissioners expressed concern that allowing charity events to take place free of charge would be unfair competition with existing event facilities.

"The economic problem I have is government subsidized property being able to compete with free enterprise, and once you allow that, free enterprise ceases to exist," said airport commission member Bill Brown.

Stringfellow's firm will revisit the policy to give the commission discretion and present it for adoption at a later meeting.

Gruber, an airport tenant and president of the Glynn County Tenants Association, told the committee he wants to see the airport become more open to the community and facilitate public awareness of the county asset.

Pointing to the Peachtree-Dekalb Airport in metro Atlanta, which hosts multiple public events each year, Gruber said airports can become community anchors.

"Their operation looks at an airport as more than just airplanes and noise," Gruber said.

He told the airport commission he is satisfied with progress made at the meeting.

"I think you've put something together that will be good for the community," Gruber said.

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