Eminent Domain Threatens Off-Airport Operation
One thing stands between Harrisburg (PA) International Airport and its plans to grow: a privately owned parking lot.
According to the Harrisburg Patriot News, for more than 25 years, the Cramer family has run Cramer Airport Parking across the railroad tracks from the airport. The business has thrived as the airport has grown. But now it might be engulfed by the airport it serves.
The Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, which owns and operates HIA, has said it would seize the 17.6 acres that contain the private parking lot and make them available to other businesses.
"It's been an emotional roller coaster," said Linda Cramer, wife of lot owner Stanford Cramer. She said the situation has upset the family and its 25 employees. The Cramer family also owns a Budget Rent-a-Car franchise, renting a counter inside the airport.
After nearly a year of negotiations, the family and the airport failed to agree on a selling price for the land. The authority will use eminent domain, a process that allows a government to take private property if the land will be used for the greater public good.
HIA wants to develop the land along with two plots it owns. The combined 65 acres would have direct access to the airfield, railroad lines and Route 230. The airport hopes to lure airport-related businesses such as cargo, aircraft maintenance and manufacturing companies.
"We have been in talks with several businesses, and it got to the point where I actually needed land to go any further," said Fred Testa, Director of Aviation at HIA. The Cramer family would get $1.57 million for the property, which the authority said is the appraised value.
The family said it is worth much more. Last July, they purchased a one-acre plot across the street for $325,000. By that measure, 17.6 acres would cost $5.72 million. Testa said the land is worth closer to $50,000 per acre. He said the Cramers paid more for the acre because it had two buildings on it.
Solomon Cramer, General Manager of the lot, said the airport's plan to seize his family's land would not put it out of business. He said the family still had options, but he would not elaborate. "I'm waiting to see what allowances they are going to make."
Cramer Airport Parking pays a fee to use the airport's roads and garage. But Testa said larger businesses could provide more to the airport and the community, particularly revenue to subsidize the airport and higher-paying jobs.
More importantly, he said, the site of Cramer Airport Parking -- close to the Norfolk Southern Railway line and adjacent to the airport tarmac -- is a "perfect spot" for HIA's expansion plans. "When you combine ... freight rail with air passengers and the highway systems," Testa said, "you have a hell of a good transportation complex to sell to prospective business owners who want to relocate."
Frank Linn, president of the Lower Swatara Township commissioners, said he favors the airport expansion, but "I'm opposed to condemning property just to get property.
"It seems logical that Cramer's is doing a good business there and the airport would like that business," Linn said. "I hope it's not that way, but it sure looks like it."
Testa dismissed the notion. "It has nothing to do with a parking competitor," he said.
PT's Editor Comments:
I first met Stan Cramer a couple of years ago when PT did an article on his off-airport parking operation in Harrisburg, PA. He's a colorful and innovative guy. A great representative of our industry.
He is now in a fight for his business life with the airport. His facility is on property he owns that the airport wants. They have made him an offer, and he has refused to sell at that price.
My guess is that the truth is in the details.
Stan has a prime piece of property right next to the airport entry. He runs a good parking operation and takes a lot of parking business away from the airport. He has built a good legacy and comfortable life by making the right decisions along the way.
Now the airport wants to use eminent domain to take away his property and maybe his business for what seems to me to be a paltry amount. He is willing to sell, but at a price that makes business sense.
I have been suspect of eminent domain's use in many such situations. The concept of "public good" can be stretched to fit most any activity a politician or airport manager wants it to.
I'm not one to stand in the way of progress, but the small businessman shouldn't be rolled over in the process. Fair is fair. Private property is private property. Stan should get compensated in an amount that not only covers the cost of bare land, but also the business he will be forced to either close or move.
And you can't tell me that wherever he moves, life will be the same. In off-airport parking, the key is location, location, location.
I will keep my eye on this one and keep you posted. Is this a good time for a national parking organization to become involved, get the facts, and perhaps help out one of its members? Check out my Parking Blog at our web site, www.parkingtoday.com, for more details.
Article Abstract from May, 2005