West Tisbury selectmen reject Martha's Vineyard Airport ads
The Martha's Vineyard Airport commission has not made a decision on a controversial proposal by Luxury Media Partners (LMP) to sell advertising space inside and outside the airport terminal, but the message from the West Tisbury selectmen was very clear at the airport commission meeting last week.
West Tisbury selectmen Jeffrey S. "Skipper" Manter and Richard Knabel told the commissioners that the signs, as proposed, do not meet West Tisbury sign bylaws, and the town is opposed to advertising at the airport.
At its regular meeting on Oct. 15, the airport commission told the two West Tisbury selectmen, who are adamant that the proposed plan be denied, that it is one of several ideas to raise revenues at the county-owned airport and was within the commission's purview to consider.
The interchange between the selectmen and the commission was cordial, but both sides were firm in their positions. The West Tisbury selectmen attached a copy of the town's sign bylaws to a letter denying support "in any fashion" to the proposal.
The airport terminal property is partly within West Tisbury town limits and therefore is subject to its sign bylaws, the selectmen said. The West Tisbury sign bylaws are directed at outside signs.
"You will have to come before us for approval, in any event," Mr. Knabel told the board.
Later in the meeting, commissioners said it would be prudent and part of their due diligence to seek a legal opinion in evaluating the West Tisbury sign regulations. "It would be naive to move forward without evaluating them," Sean Flynn, airport general manager, said.
West Tisbury limits outside signs to six square feet. The signs presented in the LMP presentations were 3 x 5 feet (15 square feet) and 4 x 6 feet (24 square feet), well over that limit.
Ernest P. Mendenhall, West Tisbury's building inspector and keeper of its sign rules, said this week, "Our rules say they are not allowable. If the airport applies to me (for permits), I'll say no, and they have the right to appeal to the zoning board of appeals. What goes on inside the airport is not my business."
Representatives of LMP presented the advertising proposal at a meeting of the airport commission on September 3. Advertising industry veterans Brian Pussilano and James Joyella told the airport commission their company had created a successful marketing model designed to attract luxury brand advertisers, and they wanted to enlist the Vineyard.
Mr. Pussilano told the commissioners that the Vineyard attracts travelers with unique demographic, consumption, and lifestyle attributes that are attractive to luxury sponsors. The company currently has a contract with East Hampton Airport in New York and has approached the Nantucket Airport commission with a similar proposal.
Advertising would be placed on small billboards facing the tarmac and visible to arriving passengers. A video display would be placed inside the terminal to market high-end goods and services to arriving and departing travelers.
Media Partners estimates first-year revenue would be between $100,000 and $200,000 and fifth-year revenue as much as $300,000, which would be shared equally with the airport. The vendor would bear all costs of construction and maintenance.
"This idea goes against the grain of the rustic appearance of our airport," Mr. Manter told the commissioners. "When visitors arrive here, they find people reading or having conversations, not watching TV," he said.
"This isn't the Hamptons or Longboat Key or any of those places," Mr. Knabel said, noting that Aquinnah and Chilmark selectmen also oppose the plan.
Reiterating that the request to investigate new revenue sources for the airport came from the airport finance committee, chairman Frank Gildea told the selectman, "No decision has been made. We are waiting for the land use committee recommendation. But we welcome input for this process."
Commissioner Jamie Craig asked selectmen, "Do you have any particular aesthetic or bylaw issues?"
"No, there are no details yet to consider," Mr. Knabel responded.
West Tisbury resident Joan Ames of Seven Gates, who attended the public meeting, sharply criticized the advertising idea. "I remember in the fifties when roses twined the fences at this airport. You are beholden to the citizens of this county to keep this a rural airport. We do not want to cater to private jets flying in with people who will buy expensive hamburgers and play golf," she said.
Ms. Ames added that advertising installed at the Steamship Authority terminal in Vineyard Haven has changed the environment there "and not for the better, I'm told by customers and by employees. The ads are distressing people. They don't like it." She noted that the SSA facility is owned by the authority, while the airport is a county facility.
Commissioner John Coskie added: "I'm against the steamship ads. They are full of sale offers and discounts." Sean Flynn, airport general manager, attempted to "clear up any misconceptions around this idea. First, this is not an attempt to bring in more jets or to expand the runways. We are very happy with our passenger operations. Nor is it an attempt to cover any financial shortfall. The airport is in good financial health. We get a million dollars from the FAA. This proposal is one of many forward-looking ideas to generate future revenue. But we are glad you're speaking up. It's hard to go back after the fact and make major changes."
Mr. Flynn said the commission is free to change the LMP proposal. "It's not a proposal we requested," he said. "LMP came to us. We are free to change or amend any ideas from vendors."
Mr. Coskie said, "We protect and insulate Islanders as much as possible from usage fees and fuel costs. We are not looking to take a bite out of residents." He indicated that new revenue sources would mitigate financial impact on Islanders.
"We want our facilities to be user friendly, to have the aircraft choose to service and refuel with us rather than at another airport," commissioner Fred Condon said. The airport handles 300,000 passengers and about 65,000 operations (takeoffs, landings, and approaches to the airstrip) a year, according to airport statistics.
After the discussions with the West Tisbury selectmen were completed and the selectmen had left the meeting, the five commission members in attendance voted to table discussion of the advertising item until the full seven-member commission is in attendance. Mr. Flynn noted he has put together a draft version of advertising regulations for the full board and the land use committee to consider as part of their review.
Members John Alley and Norman Perry were absent.
In other business, the commissioners voted to begin eviction proceedings against three tenants for longstanding non-compliance with their lease terms, generally having to do with unapproved sub-lessors and property use.
Commissioners voted to begin proceedings against Cottage City LLC, DMB Realty and an Air New England aviation hangar.
Mr. Flynn also presented the board with the airport's first capital needs budget and noted that a draft of the 2008 financial audit has been prepared, to the relief of commissioners who have been critical of past delays.
Mr. Flynn also noted that the Federal Aviation Administration had given the airport a clean bill of health, "the first time in nine years that's happened," Mr. Flynn said.