Airport must consider impact of possible casino

Tribune-Star/Howard GreningerConsultant: Monica Newhouse-Rodriguez, managing principal of Newhouse & Associates, an airport consulting firm, Friday spoke to the board of directors of Terre Haute Regional Airport. The airport plans to hire Newhouse & Associates to develop a strategic development plan for the Indiana 46 corridor.  

With the potential for development of a $100 million casino next to Terre Haute Regional Airport, its board of directors met Friday with an airport planning firm.

It’s part of the airport’s effort, through a 46 Corridor committee, to plan development on Terre Haute’s east side.

“You have a corridor and it is developing, but it is right of the end of your runway. You need to preserve that asset,” said Monica Newhouse-Rodriguez, managing principal of Newhouse and Associates, an airport consulting firm that is to create a strategic development plan.

That could include seeking ordinances on lighting and building heights to protect the airport’s greatest asset — Indiana’s fourth longest runway, Newhouse-Rodriguez told the board. The airport’s primary runway — Runway 5-23 — is 9,020 feet long

“With the casino, they will have a large sign, certainly. What kind of electronic sign would be acceptable in that area, recognizing there is a runway there,” is one of the subjects that needs to reviewed, Newhouse-Rodriguez said.

“Typically cities and counties don’t do the best job to preserve compatibility around airports — they just don’t know enough about it,” Newhouse-Rodriguez said. “There are probably some places where we can make it better to make sure that 20 years from now nobody is coming in and building things.”

An example is Las Vegas, she said, where its airport is located downtown, but casino developments have limited the airport. Now Las Vegas is considering a new airport at the cost of nearly $1 billion, she said.

“You don’t ever want to lose any of your functionality here because that is what you have to sell,” she said.

“This airport is a huge asset for this community. That runway is the thing when looking at (Federal Aviation Administration) grants, so the highest priority is the runway. You have got to preserve the capability and usability of that,” Newhouse-Rodriguez said.

Terre Haute Regional Airport has received $6.3 million in federal and state grants over the last four years, said John Baer, a professional engineer with Woolpert Inc., engineering consultant for the airport.

Newhouse & Associates is a Hoosier firm based in Carmel, but has offices in New Orleans, Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex area. The firm is to develop a strategic plan that is two fold. It would include airport land use and compatibility.

“Development by the airport has to be viewed with noise compatibility, safety, height restrictions and lighting, even with solar panels, you have to look at reflectability,” Newhouse-Rodriguez said.

Board President Rachel Leslie sought to have the board vote on accepting the firm Friday and board members voiced support. Board attorney Scott Craig said the board could not vote Friday, but said he will prepare a contract and bring it back to the board next month for approval.

The consultant would cost $107,000. The airport in its 2020 budget included $130,000 for a planner or engineer intended to coordinate efforts for development around the airport.

Two main driving issues for the airport are getting increased water supply to the airport and planning for development around the airport. It includes the Indiana 46 Corridor committee (sometimes called the Indiana 46 initiative), bringing in utilities, businesses and landowners in the corridor to work toward creating a future plan.

“We are making sure we are being proactive in everything that we are doing out here,” Leslie said after the meeting. “I think the goal is that when the (casino) operator is chosen, they become part of the stakeholders in the 46 Corridor initiative and are part of these conversations and we make sure that we are working together to manage each other’s expectations.”

Leslie said the 46 corridor is also important from expectations of increased tourism near the airport.

“The increased number in tourists out here especially, with 800,000 to 1.1 million potential new tourists in this area, potentially, is something” the airport board must pay attention to, Leslie said. “We need to be proactive in thinking what the business development looks like.”

Newhouse-Rodriguez has an MBA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Newhouse & Associates is a boutique firm, with 10 employees, that provides airport planning, capital management and development services. Some airports the company manages logistics at include Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Miami International Airport.

Newhouse-Rodriguez serves on the board of directors for Airports Council International – North America, World Business Partners and Associates. She will serve as president of that board in 2021.

In 2017, Newhouse-Rodriguez was appointed by Gov. Eric Holcomb to a four-year term on the Ports of Indiana Commission. Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson serves as vice chair of that commission.

Spectacle Entertainment is seeking to bring a casino to Terre Haute near the airport. Spectacle’s lead owners are Gibson and former Centaur Gaming CEO Rod Ratcliff.

Vigo County voters, through a referendum in the Nov. 5 general election, will decide whether the county should be home to an inland casino.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com. Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.

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