To Barrett Ziemer, Range Regional Airport is like a economic jet engine.

“That one-mile piece of pavement (runway) is no different than a downtown,” Ziemer, Chisholm-Hibbing Airport Authority executive director said.

The airport in Hibbing contributes more than $36 million to the local economy, according to a 2019 Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) study.

And even more economic activity is on the horizon.

Passenger traffic in May increased 1,600 percent compared to May 2020, Ziemer said.

That, and another Delta Air Lines flight to the Twin Cities added on Tuesday afternoons, bodes well for the airport and Iron Range, he said.

“They're (Delta) seeing strong bookings into the summer, so that's highly encouraging,” Ziemer said. “We're seeing a good response in passenger traffic.”

Yet another positive development is also about to takeoff.

A new $5.5 million corporate commercial hangar is on the drawing board.

The 21,000 square-foot hangar will allow the airport to park large airplanes indoors, Ziemer said. In frigid weather, the heated hangar means corporate and business airplane owners can keep their planes at the airport.

“It will give us something to market,” Ziemer said. “Sometimes, these corporate planes will drop off their client, fly to Fargo where they can store their plane indoors and then come back here to pick up their clients.”

The airport authority will lease the two-bay hangar to users, Ziemer said.

One bay will be leased to an unnamed tenant to store and maintain its aircraft. The other bay will be used to service transient aircraft.

As a result, the airport will see increased flight activity, aviation fuel sales, landing fees, and lease revenue.

“We're excited about the hangar,” Ziemer said. “The airport authority for years has known we were lacking a facility to store large aircraft. It's something the airport has wanted to do for some time and it just seemed like a good time to go for it.”

An old building that years ago was moved to the airport from a mining property will be razed in August to make way for the new hangar.

A $350,000 Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Development Infrastructure grant to the airport authority to help with infrastructure and site development, will be considered for recommendation Monday by the nine-member IRRR Board.

The airport authority and MnDOT Aeronautics office, will also provide funding for the new hangar.

In addition to the hangar, 35,000 square-feet of existing aircraft apron will be reconstructed and an 8,000 square-foot parking area and 2,000 square-foot access road, will be built.

The entire project is expected to create two permanent jobs and 35 construction jobs.

A $47.6 million fiscal year 2022 budget will also be considered at Monday's IRRR Board meeting.

Increases in funding for regional trails projects and community public works projects are part of the budget.

Over the next year, the Eveleth-based economic development agency expects an increase in funding requests for all-terrain vehicle, mountain bike, bicycle, and hiking trail development, IRRR Commissioner Mark Phillips said.

The agency is funded on a three-year average of taconite taxes paid on each ton of iron ore pellets produced.

After a dip in iron ore pellet production in 2015 and 2016, production has rebounded, meaning the agency can increase its budget for public works projects, said Phillips.

Investment earnings, loan interest, and facility revenues, are other sources of agency revenue.

Other projects to be considered are:

- A $250,000 grant to the City of Babbitt to support a $7.3 million phase one construction of a new wastewater treatment facility.

- A $175,000 grant to the City of Virginia for infrastructure and site work of an $880,947 professionally-built, ADA accessible, 18-hole miniature golf course to be operated by a private firm.

- A $795,000 Iron Range Higher Education Account appropriation to the Northeast Higher Education District to support Iron Range Engineering.


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