Gwinnett County Airport will undergo $17M redevelopment

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

A new company will take over operations of a portion of Gwinnett County Airport at Briscoe Field in April, after winning a county bid by proposing a three-year, $17 million redevelopment.

The runway and taxiways divide the airport into two clusters of facilities, one on the north side and another on the south side. Each side has a different “fixed based operator,” the main point of public contact, which provides services such as catering, aircraft fueling and maintenance.

Sheltair Aviation Services will be the north side’s new fixed based operator. The newer south side is operated by Aircraft Specialists Jet Center, whose lease ends in 2025.

Sheltair, based in Florida, manages properties at 20 airports in four states, including Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners this month awarded Sheltair a 25-year lease for about 36 acres off Route 316, after the company committed to spend $12 million upgrading existing hangars and asphalt and $5 million on a new terminal, recreation area and restaurant or office building.

“We’re really excited,” said Matthew Smith, the county’s airport director. “We think this will give us a gateway to the community, which is what we should be and what we hope we will be.”

ExploreGwinnett airport, Georgia’s third busiest, to expand taxiway

Sheltair intends to earn a 40-year lease by proposing to further expand hangar and office space, an additional investment of about $13 million, according to its proposal, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Georgia Open Records Act.

The 500-acre airport at the northeastern edge of Lawrenceville was Georgia’s third-busiest in 2022, with almost 119,000 takeoffs and landings, behind Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. About 300 aircraft are based at Briscoe Field, ranging from two-seaters to large corporate jets. A flight school and Young Eagles, a program that takes children on free plane rides to generate interest in aviation, operate on the north side.

Gwinnett County Police Department helicopters use the airport’s south side. Briscoe Field does not handle commercial flights.

In its marketing plan, Sheltair said the Gwinnett airport is underutilized. The company plans to use the county’s expanding technology, bioscience and manufacturing sectors to promote Briscoe Field as a destination for business flights.

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

The county will give Sheltair rent credits for the cost of its improvements over the next three years. The company will pay about $286,000 in rent in the first year, increasing to about $510,000 in six years. Based on inflation and appraisal increases, Sheltair calculates it could pay the county about $68 million in rent over 40 years.

The county went out to bid for operations of the airport’s north side last year, as the lease of the current operator, Gwinnett Aero, drew to an end. Managed Assets, a company with the same leadership as Gwinnett Aero, also bid for a new 25-year lease but Sheltair scored higher on the county’s rubric, most notably in the site improvements category, according to the tabulation sheet.

A deal is being discussed to keep Managed Assets as a tenant operating the current terminal, which will remain office and hangar space after the new one is built.

Sheltair must present a development plan to the county by June.

The new terminal, like the current one, will be “a mix of a gas station and a hotel lobby, if you will, and a concierge,” said Milo Zonka, vice president of real estate for Sheltair. It will contain the usual amenities, such as a pilot lounge and sleep rooms, rental car service, aircraft fueling and maintenance area, coffee and bathrooms.

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“It’s certainly going to be a lot newer and purpose-built to the modern standards,” Zonka said.

On a recent morning, planes took off from Briscoe Field every few minutes despite falling drizzle. In nicer weather, the airport would be even busier, Smith said.

One plane contained Quest Diagnostics lab samples en route to Virginia. Another jet, possibly the airport’s largest, was likely taking the owner of a prescription drug benefit company to his family in Mumbai, said Smith.

“You can fly nonstop from here to Mumbai with the size runway we have,” he said.