Sun, Feb. 23

City OK's conditional lease to skydiving operation

COTTONWOOD -- A lengthy debate over renewal of an airport ground lease kept the Cottonwood City Council busy Tuesday night.

Red Rock Skydiving has leased property from the city adjacent to the airport terminal building. The business attracts skydivers from across the country and around the world. But airport officials say they would like to see some options for lease of the space in the future.

Airport Manager Morgan Scott told the council that with the lease about to expire, the Airport Commission would like to consider other options for its ground lease and go out for proposals. He said the commission would also like to adjust the contract to consider lease rates and terms and only renew the lease month-to-month in the meantime.

Airport Commission President Jim Moeny said commissioners recommended that the city not renew the lease with the skydiving firm. He said Red Rock Skydiving owner Karl Prigge has been a difficult tenant with altercations with skydivers and others in the airport community.

When Prigge got up to speak, he challenged allegations by Morgan Scott in suggesting that other people were interested in that property. He said he had contacted all three of those mentioned and they all denied that they were interested in the land lease.

He cited an email from Tony Garcia of the FAA Airports Division, to whom he had complained that the city wanted to end his lease. Garcia questioned why the city would end the lease of an aeronautical business with an escalating lease rate. Garcia says the FAA has issues with non-aeronautical activities, but not with aeronautical tenants.

Prigge said he is getting a lot of pushback from city officials. "We are the only skydiving operation in Northern Arizona and this is a family-owned and operated business."

He said hang gliders have no rights and they must give the right of way to everyone.

One Prigge supporter claimed that the skydiving business was getting "a railroad job," that the city really just wanted Prigge's building.

Karen Prigge read sections of the land lease, which said that improvements developed on the property would automatically default to the city at the end of a lease.

Attorney Steve Horton countered that is not the city's intent and he corrected that a tenant has 15 days to remove his property at the end of a lease.

One man, Randy Buelle, a hang-glider operator, said he has had four conflicts with Prigge, including one incident when Prigge grabbed his equipment and caused $500 damage.

City Manager Doug Bartosh agree that Red Rock Skydiving is a good business, but that Prigge has been difficult to deal with. "It's how he handles situations."

Mayor Diane Joens noted that hang gliding is also very important to the Verde Valley, too. "We have a world-class hang gliding facility here."

In the end, council members were not interested in pulling the plug on the business and all agreed that the contract should be re-drawn to be more "black and white" with clear consequences.

The one hold out for the lease renewal was Councilman Randy Garrison. He said, "I cannot believe we are going down this road. We have had two airport managers, the city manager, attorney, police and commission all recommending against this and you are going to approve a one-year lease."

Bartosh said he will contact Garcia as well, believing that he only got one side of the story and does not fully understand the situation. He said he believes it was wrong for the FAA official to send the email in that fashion.

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