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JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT : The Dollars Riding on the Expansion

September 04, 1990|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's not as deafening as the roar of jet engines, but with the opening of the expanded John Wayne Airport comes another sound to be heard across Orange County: the crinkling of cash.

The airport has contributed to the local economy since the first passenger jet landed in 1967, and it affected development and land-use patterns in Irvine, Costa Mesa, Santa Ana and Newport Beach.

But the economic forces unleashed by the airport expansion are likely to roll across the entire county.

A new report, being kept secret until later this week by the Orange County Aviation Council, an airport booster group that commissioned it, is expected to show that the expansion will bring the county more than 15,000 new jobs and $1 billion a year more in revenue from various sources.

Tourism alone already brings in $650 million a year to the county, according to estimates by Chapman College economist James Doti, and it is easy to see how flights between Orange County and Chicago--or New York or Hawaii, both possibilities in the near future--could bloat that figure.

The expansion "is going to be a boon for the whole area," said Mike Lutton, president of the Irvine Co.'s office development unit. "There are about 4 million people a year now who go to Los Angeles (International Airport) because they don't want to mess with John Wayne Airport. A lot of them will start using Orange County now." The expansion will allow airlines to carry as many as 8.4 million passengers a year at the airport, up from the current 4.75 million.

In addition to adding more coins to transportation and restaurant coffers, increased use of the airport will boost the fortunes of the county's flagging hotel industry, Lutton predicted. Hotels surrounding the airport will feel an immediate impact, while those lining the county's coastal resort strip from Huntington Beach to Dana Point will benefit later.

An improved airport not only means happier tourists but a more attractive climate for businesses, said James Renzas, senior managing consultant at Premier Decision Management, an Irvine-based corporate relocation firm.

"Frequent air service is the most important factor companies look at when they are seeking new locations for regional and corporate headquarters," he said.

"Orange County is poised to become an alternative to Los Angeles for a lot of major firms. And a spinoff of that is creation here of more support service jobs.

"As the big fish move in, creating jobs for top corporate and finance and sales management people, the support businesses will follow, creating jobs for attorneys and accountants and secretaries and salespeople."

Even the design of the new Thomas F. Riley Terminal is a big plus, said David Banmiller, president of Air/Lyon, an Irvine-based holding company for a nationwide group of aviation ground service firms.

"A quality air transportation system is vital to the county," Banmiller said. "When you look at what this community had to live with with the old terminal and compare (it) to the new, you see that the new terminal communicates that this is a quality place to live and work. The old one didn't."

Developers and politicians are dreaming of the possibilities of a mass transit monorail system that would connect the airport and its surrounding business complex to major business and amusement centers in Anaheim, Orange, Santa Ana, Irvine and maybe even south to San Juan Capistrano. The monorail network, they say, would attract new development.

One idea is to extend into other cities the small monorail that McDonnell Douglas Realty is building to link the new terminal to a pair of 24-story office towers it is developing on a site across MacArthur Boulevard.

A project predicated on monorail access to the airport is Mola Center in Irvine--a 40-acre mix of offices, stores, theaters, restaurants, hotels, homes and a 15-story condominium tower scheduled to be completed in several phases.

Mola's planners provided for a monorail station to tie the complex to the airport, and spokesman Timothy Roberts said the airport expansion increased demand for nearby offices, thereby making the project desirable.

At the Irvine Spectrum business center, a regional transportation center includes space for a monorail station. Eventually, 100,000 employees will be working in the Spectrum, and a monorail would be an inviting transportation option for people who don't want to join the crowds on the surrounding Santa Ana or San Diego freeways.

In Santa Ana, Mayor Daniel H. Young is publicly boosting a plan for a monorail to make two loops through his city before continuing to the Anaheim Stadium business complex, then returning to the airport business complexes. Young envisions commercial, residential and office projects growing up around the monorail.

It is a vision he shares with Anaheim economic development manager Al McCord, a strong booster of both the expanded airport and a monorail linking it with his city.

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