LANTANA, Fla. >> Palm Beach County taxpayers can expect to eat up to $60,000 in waived rental fees in 2018 as the county tries to provide relief to companies at the Lantana airport that will be effectively shut down when President Donald Trump is in town.
The leader of the private operator at the airport said he’s already lost close to a half million dollars from businesses and tenants that bolted since last year’s visits, and more could leave, or even go out of business, this year.
On top of that, the county expects to lose as much as $70,000 in general aviation — private plane — fees from Palm Beach International Airport if it repeats last year’s 12 percent drop in general aviation landings and fuel sales during presidential visits, the county said.
The president is scheduled to arrive Tuesday for a long Thanksgiving break at his Mar-a-Lago compound, in what would be his first trip to his part-time home for the 2017-18 season. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a “VIP Movement Notification” for pilots from Tuesday to Nov 26.
Trump, who was at Mar-a-Lago seven times between February and April of this year, is expected to return for Christmas and for several weekends in the first four months of 2018.
Because the Lantana airport — officially named Palm Beach County Park Airport — is inside a 10-nautical-mile radius of Mar-a-Lago, the Secret Service bars planes from flying either in or out of it when the president visits.
Flight restrictions weren’t in place in November and December 2016 during visits by then-President-elect Trump, but they were for 25 days in 2017, county airports director Bruce Pelly told county commissioners in a Nov. 9 memo.
By not charging the airport’s businesses rent on the days the restrictions are in effect in 2018, “we are estimating the total reduction in rental revenue to the County will be between $30,000 and $60,000,” Pelly wrote.
The businesses at the airport give half their rent to the county and half to “fixed-base operator” Stellar Aviation, which still will collect its cut for the days the restrictions are in effect, Jonathan Miller, president of Stellar, said. He said he needs that revenue to stay in operation and pay his staff.
The tourist-snowbird season, at whose height Trump will be visiting, is a peak period for the Lantana airport, Miller said.
He estimated his 20 or so tenants could suffer as much as $350,000 in lost revenue just over the one-week Thanksgiving visit and the two-week Christmas stay. He said the companies are waiting to see how much of a financial beating they take during those two visits and that some might leave by the end of the year.
“It’s the length of the visits. He’s not coming just weekends. He’s coming for weeks at a time,” Miller said.
Miller said a defense contractor was training Blackhawk helicopter pilots at Lantana, which he said was one of just two places in the country with simulators, and “they left after the third visit” in early 2017, which was Feb. 17-20, the long Presidents Day weekend. The outfit moved operations to the other site, which was out of state, Miller said. He said the early departure cost him $440,000 in projected rent and fuel purchases for the rest of 2017.
Miller also said he lost about $30,000 in projected rent and fuel purchases for the rest of 2017 when three owners who parked their planes at Lantana found new homes. Two were runway “tie-downs” and the third rented a more expensive hangar space, he said.
Leaders from the airport and the county, elected officials for both the county and area cities and state and federal legislators all have stressed that the president needs protection, but have lobbied the Secret Service to make some concessions. The agency has not budged. The White House also has not responded to pleas that it lobby the Secret Service.
The Secret Service “has met on numerous occasions with our partners in Florida to ensure that we have established the best possible security plan for the President while minimizing the disruption to commercial and general aviation,” Secret Service spokesman Joseph Casey told The Palm Beach Post in an email. The White House did not respond to Palm Beach Post requests for comment.
Officials have suggested having the Transportation Security Administration set up an office at the Lantana airport, where a TSA agent could screen crew, passengers and luggage. They also proposed allowing a corridor to the west and south that would allow flight schools and other outfits to do limited operations during the restrictions.
But, Miller said, “We’re getting zero consideration.”
He said the county is studying a costly permanent security upgrade for the airport, but even then, there’s no guarantee the Secret Service would relent.
“The easy part is to say no. The hard part is to sit down in a room and figure this out,” Miller said.
In a statement Friday, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., said: “It is obvious that weekend golf and social clubbing is an inherent part of Mr. Trump’s life that he will not give up, regardless of the obligations of his office or consequences to taxpayers.”