Defining the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Business Park is tricky. It has 101 leaseholding businesses, is located on airport land, has two parcels that are connected geographically but does not have a public road between the two areas, and three separate entrances. Some tenants are technically in Edgartown, and others in West Tisbury. Practically speaking, none of this affects the businesses or their customers on a day-to-day basis, but they may, at times, have zoning implications.
The airport proper is in Edgartown. A small percentage of businesses are reached via the official airport entrance off the West Tisbury–Edgartown Road. They include — to the left when entering — West Tisbury’s Airport Laundromat near Airport Fitness and — on the right — Edgartown’s Vineyard Decorators, with the long line of colorful Adirondack chairs out front. Most people don’t call this area the Airport Business Park, they just think of them as businesses at the airport, but they are managed under the same rules, regulations, and administration as the Airport Business Park. The other two entrances — both leading to what is known as the Airport Business Park — are off Barnes Road. All of the offices in this area are in Edgartown. They include the Shell station, RMV, and Vineyard Propane and Oil.
The Business Park leases provide revenue for airport operations. When the federal government sold the airport to Dukes County in 1959 for $1, it stipulated that all future revenue collected on airport land must be used to fund airport expenditures.
Martina Thornton, county manager since 2012, with four years prior to that as assistant county manager, provides more details: “The airport is owned by Dukes County and is managed by the M.V. Airport Commission, which currently has five members, with two more to be appointed as of March 2020. M.V. Airport Commission members are appointed by the elected Dukes County Commissioners. In addition to the unpaid airport commissioners, there is a professional staff that manages the day-to-day operations and reports to the Airport Commission. Their collective responsibility is the ‘custody, care, and management of the airport.’ This includes conforming to the Federal Aviation Administration, state, and local regulations; managing general aviation; coordinating airline and security operations; and acting as a landlord to the aviation and other businesses located on the one-square-mile property.”
When asked about the beginnings of the Business Park, Thornton suggested speaking with John Alley. As a member of the M.V. Commission, and formerly on the M.V. Airport Commission, he’s a walking, talking Wikipedia on local politics. “The M.V. airport, a square mile carved out of the State Forest, had more land than was needed for actual aviation activities,” Alley explains, “Sometime in the 1980s, the county decided to create the Business Park, as much-needed space for the ‘Main Street undesirable businesses.’ That’s what they were actually called. What ‘undesirable’ meant, in this case, was businesses in all of the Island’s towns that weren’t attractive to the tourist trade and didn’t function via walk-ins. Things like oil and gas companies, warehouses, construction firms, and many more of that ilk. The airport park is convenient, with its easy parking, plenty of space, and of course its central location, location, location. The advantages were obvious, and it has proved to be a good move all the way around.”
One of the longest leaseholders is Animal Health Care, located in the actual airport area, near the fitness club. Still in this original location, the business was founded and is still run by Dr. Steven Atwood. Practice manager Terry Lowe says, “We’ve been at the airport location since 1984, the early days of the Business Park development. We’re the only dog and cat boarding facility on the Island.”
Imagination and nerve led to a recent, highly successful move to the Business Park by MV Wine and Spirits. Owner Brion McGroarty Sr. gives an explanation: “We were in the Edgartown downtown area, where traffic, parking, and growing rents weren’t great for our business. We’ve been here since 2013, and the move has worked out well. We were able to lease the land, buying the existing building that most people think of as the old Hot Tin Roof, and build an addition to the existing structure. It took 2½ years to complete, including the design, permitting process, and construction. We knew we’d be looking for subletters, which we did by word of mouth. The first, Mark Vanette of Black Sheep Mercantile, originally thought about using his facility as an industrial kitchen to supply his Edgartown food shop, but I ‘strongly suggested’ that he make it a retail space, as I wanted the kind of traffic retail would bring in. We supplied all of the market research Mark requested, and he did his own, even sitting in his car in the parking lot, counting the numbers of customers our shop attracted. Mercantile has been a terrific addition, as has our other subletter, Tyler Gibson’s Fish House. We’ve branded our three-shop complex Airport Market Place.”
Tom Seeman, owner of the 35-year-old Island Source (formerly Vineyard Bottled Water) has been a tenant at the Business Park for 23 years. He started out in his basement and various places around the Island before landing at the Business Park, the area reached via two entrances off Barnes Road. Seeman says, “It was a relief to have a long lease and own our own building.” A small selection of other companies in this area of the Park include Bruno’s, Comcast, FedEx, Island Pool and Spa, Jan Burman–Kitchen Porch, and three storage-unit companies — Airport Mini Storage, Cape Cod Express, and Vineyard Self Storage. And therein lies a tale. Seeman recently renewed his standard 20-year lease. He now owns two separate businesses — Island Source and Vineyard Self Storage, two separate buildings, collectively existing on the same one-acre plot he’s been leasing for decades.
Technically, there are no current vacancies for full leases at the airport, but subletting opportunities do exist. For the establishments already in place, the airport, given all of the particular challenges of Island life, is a good place to do business.