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Airport Privatization Proponent Speaks Out

Propeller Investments’ Brett Smith believes his plan will lead Gwinnett out of the recession and plans to prove noise concerns are unfounded.

Brett Smith is a believer.

As the managing director of Propeller Investments, Smith is convinced his plan for the privatization of Briscoe Field could result in tremendous economic benefits for the area.

“I look for projects that are interesting, that create jobs,” he said. “I look for projects that can make a difference.”

Smith believes he and his company can make a difference in the greater Gwinnett community by bringing commercial airline service to the Lawrenceville airport.

“I believe in this,” Smith said. “This will create history.”

THE PLAN

Two years ago, Smith approached the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners with the idea of privatizing the airport and adding commercial service.

Smith, who attended school in Atlanta and spends a good deal of time in the area on business, said he became frustrated with the amount of time it took to get through Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

“We own a company out in Cobb County,” he said. “I was coming down to Atlanta and I made the mistake of flying on Continental and ended up in the D Concourse. I was here for a day meeting and I didn’t have anything other than my briefcase and it took me 45 minutes to get out of the terminal.”

Smith felt there had to be a better solution for business travelers trying to reach destinations in the suburbs.

“We started looking at all the airports in the area,” he said.

After what he describes as “a lot” of homework, Smith decided Gwinnett’s 500-acre airport would be the perfect candidate.

“There’s significantly high unemployment,” Smith said. “You have infrastructure that really could be improved, particularly 316 which is a nightmare.”

According to Smith, privatizing the airport could solve both of those problems.

“A project like what we envision would force the state to fix it,” he said. “I thought that was a positive.”

As for the economic impact, Smith estimates privatizing the airport and introducing commercial flights could add $1 billion each year to the local economy and create as many as 20,000 jobs over the next ten years.

COMMUNITY OPINION

Before approaching the county, Smith said he conducted a poll to determine community interest and support for the project.

“I wanted to make sure the majority of people were in favor of this,” he said. “If they’re not, it’s a waste of time.”

In a poll of 531 registered voters, Smith said roughly 80 percent favored privatization with commercial service. Later polls reportedly yielded similar results.

According to Smith, a poll of 1,050 people showed 85 percent of respondents favored privatization with commercial service and a poll of just Lawrenceville residents showed 70 percent of poll participants favored the plan.

“This is a way to take this airport and turn it into a small origin and destination airport,” Smith said. The plan includes a maximum of 10 gates with up to an additional 80 flights a day, or an increase from the current 14 flights each hour to 18 per hour.

Smith said the problem he currently faces is that those opposed are protesting while those in favor have remained silent.

“I think it would have gone a lot smoother if people understood what it was,” he said.

THE OPPOSITION

Leading the opposition to Smith’s plan is the group Citizens for a Better Gwinnett (C4BG).

Last month, the group held . The purpose of the meeting, according to group member Jim Regan, was to ensure commissioners know citizens are paying attention to discussions and developments regarding future plans for Briscoe Field.

Though on opposite sides of this issue, Regan and Smith do have one thing in common – . However, the similarities end there.

Regan takes issue with Smith’s assertion that polling showed support for commercialization and privatization.

“[The poll] didn’t mention commercial aviation,” Regan said. Instead, according to Regan, the questions focused on economic benefits, costs to the county and jobs.

“If you ask the right questions in a poll, you can get the answers you want,” he explained.

Regardless of what Smith’s poll numbers indicate, Regan and . Smith maintains those issues should not be a concern.

“If you look at examples of what we are proposing – Palm Springs, Greenville-Spartanburg, Westchester County – in all of those cases, home values have increased over the past 10 years,” he said.

In contrast, Smith said home values around Briscoe Field have plummeted during the same time period.

“If you bought a home in Lawrenceville 10 years ago next to the airport and try to sell it today, you’ve lost 30 percent,” he said.

With commercial service, Smith says businesses would move to Gwinnett and companies would continue to grow causing home prices to increase over time.

As for noise, Smith plans to prove homeowners have no need to worry.

“The general aviation airplanes that are currently flying out of there are noisier than the next generation aircraft the airlines fly,” Smith said. “That train that goes by the airport is 10 times louder.”

Smith would not disclose the date, but said within the next few weeks he plans to hold a demonstration at the airport.

“I’m going to land a 737 and, four minutes later, a plane that currently goes in there is going to land. A few minutes later, the 737 will take off and the other plane will take off and people can judge for themselves,” he said. The time of the demonstration will be announced a few days in advance.

Regan said he looks forward to the demonstration and hopes the 737 will fly landing circles as part of the event.

“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right,” Regan said. “I’d love it if he would do that on a Saturday or Sunday when everyone is home.”

Smith is convinced people’s fears will be allayed once they hear the 737 land and take off from Briscoe Field.

“I’m willing to do this because I know what the outcome is going to be,” he said. “The noise is not an issue. People say it is because they don’t know.”

UP NEXT

The county has not yet issued a request for proposals (RFP) for any airport related projects, but did issue a request for qualifications (RFQ) for firms interested in submitting proposals to privatize the airport.

The county received responses from Smith’s company, American Airports Corporation, and Gwinnett Airport, LLC.

Smith is waiting on the county to act.

“The thing I want to convey to everybody is that we have an opportunity here,” he said. “If enough people are involved in the process, we can make it work for everybody.”

Smith strongly believes his proposed project has the potential to take the region out of the recession quickly.

“I know that what we’re offering is the best option,” he said. “It really takes Gwinnett to the next level.”

 

 

Paul from Lawrenceville March 03, 2011 at 01:36 PM
The existing runway is long enough but the runway cannot accommodate the weight of a fully loaded 737. So without a fully loaded plane it is a BS publicity stunt. Fully loaded planes on takeoff and landing require more thrust and make a lot more noise than an empty one.
Laura March 03, 2011 at 03:07 PM
If you want to see the airports that Mr. Smith is referring to in this article ... the ones that he is comparing to Briscoe Field and Gwinnett County, do a Google search for aerial views. They are located in much different surrounding environments than is Briscoe Field. One is bordered on one side by a huge lake, one is surrounded by a mountain range, and one is next to a 12-lane interstate highway. Just FYI.
Jimmy Orr March 03, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Kristi, you gave Brett Smith more than his fair share of press in today's Dacula Patch. If you have not already interviewed Jim Reagan with Citizens For A Better Gwinnett (C4ABG), I would appreciate your doing so. While I expect our Board of Commissioners to make decisions which are in the best interests of ALL of the citizens of Gwinnett County, I am of the opinion that there are times when issues that will ultimately affect taxpayer dollars should be settled at the ballot box. Privatization of Gwinnett County Briscoe Field with a commercial airline option is one of those times. Smith can talk about an increase in residential property values all he wants to but there is a knowledgeable real estate guru who is a member of the C4ABG Board of Directors who would debate Smith on this issue. Another question I have is who will pay for the infrastructure that will be required to support Smith's proposal? Once again, I depend on our BOC to issue bonds to build public works projects which are in the best interets of ALL the citizens of Gwinnett County. I use these public works projects and I have no problem with my tax dollars retiring the bond debt. The county would in all proability issue bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements, Smith would get a "sweetheart deal" and laugh all the way to the bank, and we taxpayers would be stuck with the bill. That's the way I see it.
Kristi Reed (Editor) March 03, 2011 at 05:43 PM
Jimmy - Jim Regan is quoted in the article and has been interviewed in other articles on Patch. His recent letter to acting Gwinnett County commission chair Shirley Lasseter, co-authored with other C4BG directors, appears in its entirety on this site.
Jimmy Orr March 03, 2011 at 06:09 PM
Kristi, you are absolutely correct. I do not know how I overlooked Jim's "Open Letter to Commissioner Shirley Lasseter," but I did. You have indeed given both Reagan and Smith fair and equal press on the airport privatization issue. You and Bill O'Reilly are cut from the same bolt of cloth. Fair and balanced.
Andrew McNeil March 03, 2011 at 06:09 PM
Interestingly enough, Brett Smith failed to give details of his economic impact study showing where the $1.25 billion and 20,000 jobs will come from. Could it be that he did no impact study?? Also, where is the list of corporations just waiting to flock into Gwinnett once we have a regional airport? Specifically, can he name one company that has refused to move into Gwinnett because we don't have a regional airport?? There are many, many successful cities in Atlanta proper with no airport that are thriving....Alpharetta....John's Creek...indicating that Mr. Smith's philosophy is flawed. I truly have enough common sense to know that an empty 737 uses less thrust than a fully loaded aircraft; therefore, his little "experiment" to show how quiet these jets are is useless and invalid. With every state, community, and city suffering high unemployment problems across the whole nation, I find it laughable that Mr. Smith thinks that Gwinnett will be the exception just because of a regional airport. And as far as opponents being "whiners", who is whining about having to drive for an hour or more to get to Hartsfield...someone needs to call the "WAAAA mbulance for them! If they had any sense, they would've realized when they bought property in Gwinnett, there would be a long drive to the closest airport. My sympathy rests with the hundreds of thousand of residents who will experience the noise, pollution, and traffice problems associated with commercial jet service at Briscoe.
Kristi Reed (Editor) March 03, 2011 at 06:21 PM
Jimmy, you get the Patriot nod for comparing me to Papa Bear: http://bit.ly/cxcCOC
Dacula O March 04, 2011 at 12:53 PM
I think having a local airport alternative is an excellent idea for future growth of Gwinnett and North GA in general. We moved to Gwinnett 6 years ago and we love it. I do a lot of business travel both by air and car, so I have flexibility to avoid rush hour traffic to ATL. In other words I don't mind. The fact is that an airport is a gateway for growth not only of Lawrenceville but surrounding counties, and should be gauged in growth over the next 10+ years and not on how many companies will move here next year. I lived in Westchester NY while they were starting commercial flights and the community support was as polarized as is here. There was no middle ground, love it or hate it. The airport there is surrounded by multimillion dollar homes, and I'm sure they had their share of opposition. But the airport is now a working part of their economic infrastructure, with dedicated traffic interchanges and businesses that created jobs. I'm amazed at the number of people in our community that travel on business, so a local airport is bound to be busy with local and tourism traffic. In general, I think it will change the economic landscape of the region for the future making it more attractive for companies and individuals looking for an accessible city.
RPD March 04, 2011 at 02:43 PM
As I am not an aviator, I don't really have a dog in the privitization fight. I can see both sides. However, as a homeowner in the Snellville/Grayson area, if commercial aircraft are allowed and they approach or stack over my residence, I will be very unhappy. I've lived through that once and don't want to do it again. After all, we have a commercial airport at Hartsfield with a train that will take you there. As of right now, I am opposed to the privitization.
Jonathan Cates March 13, 2011 at 11:04 AM
Please, don't put an airport in Gwinnett! I grew up near John Wayne Airport(SNA) in Orange County, California(when it was Orange County Airport), and the pollution, traffic, and NOISE is reason enough to put Briscoe out near Gainesville or Commerce....Thanks!

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