GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — The phrase “Project Thunderbird” wasn’t uttered during Tuesday’s meeting of the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority.
The whole concept of Boom Supersonic possibly being the company that would receive state incentives to build a facility on newly developed land at Piedmont Triad International Airport for sure wasn’t mentioned.
Boom emerged last week as the company associated with what state Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem) called “Project Thunderbird” when presenting a bill to bring money to the project. The deal isn’t done, though, and the lips that have been tight about these prospects remain ever tight.
That was particularly true for the PTAA’s Zoom session – at least during the public portion – and in fact board chair Paul Mengert made a point to say that the group “can’t discuss potential economic development.”
That mimicked PTI Executive Director Kevin Baker’s “I-know-nothing” perspective when asked last week about Thunderbird. Baker only has said – and the airport reiterated in a release after Boom’s name emerged – that he is negotiating with several companies about coming to the airport.
Likewise, on Tuesday a weekly meeting of the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Economic Investment Committee adjourned without further comment about the incentives that the group must approve before the state can deliver them for the project.
The General Assembly approved $106.75 million in a Job Development Investment Grant for “a high-yield project for an airplane manufacturer in Guilford County,” which would be located on all or some of the roughly 1,000 acres being developed on the northwest side of I-73.
Based on the qualifications for a JDIG, this project would mean about 1,700 new jobs and $500 million in investment, although the bill didn’t specify those numbers. They would make an average of $60,000 a year, the bill did stipulate.
Next up is the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, which will discuss possible incentives during a public hearing scheduled for Thursday.
The boom was reported first by The News & Observer to be the courted company. Based in Denver and founded in 2014, Boom would build a smaller passenger jet that it says is the next iteration of the Concorde SST, promising flights from Montreal to Paris, for instance, in about half the time it takes for a conventional passenger jet.
But there was no Boom lowered at PTI’s board meeting, although the land where the facility might be built certainly was reviewed.
Work on property continuing
PTI Chief Operating Officer Alex Rosser reviewed for the board progress on the connecting taxiway to link to the bridge already built over I-73 – “paving and grading are underway and then they need to permanent seed” – which he said should wrap up in the “next four weeks.”
He said the contractor on the “northwest property” – the land across I-73 that formerly was the Pleasant Ridge Golf Course – continued to place the embankment along with the property, a dirt-moving operation that passersby see with dust-blowing clarity.
“They have about a million more yards [of embankment] to move,” Rosser said.
Another key requirement to growth, the relocation of the orange-and-white-striped radar tower from the corner of I-73 and NC 68 south to adjacent to Market Street, is making progress, he said.
“The steel is erected,” Rosser said. “It’s 114 feet tall and can be seen from I-40 and other roads. It’s picking up pace and should be finished by summer. Then we can start removing the hill where the current tower is located.”
“We have sections from 100 to 200 acres that are ready to go,” he told WGHP. “Any project that comes around will depend on where it goes and the needs to finalize it.”
The legislature’s appropriation provides $15 million for site work at the airport, $35 million for roadwork through the NC Department of Transportation, and $56.75 million for the airport to use “for the construction of one or more new hangars.”
Buying more land
The airport authority did spend a little money on adjacent property, approving the purchase of four parcels totaling about 6.2 acres for $901,000.
These lots are located at 6823, 6824, 6829, and 6833 Pepperdine Road, which is near Old Oak Ridge Road on the southern perimeter of the large parcel for development.
Baker said there are “a couple of houses and one business and one barn structure” on the parcels, and the board didn’t discuss how it might use them or why it might want them other than adding to the available landmass.
“Staff recommends that we acquire all four parcels,” Baker said. And after Mengert mentioned the board’s Land Committee had recommended this purchase, which was approved unanimously.