Stinson Municipal Airport. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.
Stinson Municipal Airport. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

City Council will review the City’s proposed Aviation Department budget for Fiscal Year 2016 at 2 p.m. Wednesday. The document includes capital funds for enhancements at the San Antonio International Airport (SAT), mainly runway improvements and the start of construction on a new rental car facility, and a restricted fund supporting the addition of 10 civilian positions department-wide.

But City leaders also get to focus on Stinson Municipal Airport, the nation’s second oldest operating general aviation airport. The community has been celebrating Stinson’s 100th anniversary this year with various activities.

Department leaders at this week’s Council B session are scheduled to outline the new state-of-the art services and amenities at the historic Southside airport, which has seen a surge in operations in the last several years.

Department officials will also talk about how the City could encourage more visitors to the airport to explore the growing number of businesses and recreational opportunities in the area. A primary destination here would be the four Spanish colonial Missions that received the World Heritage designation – a first for Texas – last month.

One way to better connect Stinson with the missions and the San Antonio River Mission Reach could be a hike and bike trail, Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3) said.

A small plane at Stinson Municipal Airport. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.
A small plane at Stinson Municipal Airport. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

The new services that have arrived at Stinson include a new in-terminal fixed-based operator in GateOne, and The Brown Bag restaurant.

GateOne provides full-service amenities and modern services to general and private aircraft travelers and pilots, including fueling, aircraft maintenance, car rentals and lounges.

The original Brown Bag, located on Wetmore Road since the 1980s, is a small, casual, popular daytime dining spot for neighborhood residents and for employees and visitors to the international airport. It’s success and potential for more garnered the City’s attention through a solicitation process, culminating in a second location at Stinson where it serves any and all diners.

District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca J. Viagran
District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca J. Viagran.

Viagran said these additions support the ongoing capital improvements at Stinson, such as runway upgrades and a new detached air traffic control tower. Other area improvements are in the works, including a continuous road linking Roosevelt Avenue and Mission Road.

Year-to-date operations at Stinson have increased 17% over last year, according to the Aviation Department. City officials said these kinds of investments are meant to grow the Stinson customer base and to preserve the airport as a historically significant site worthy of highlight in a fast-developing part of the Southside.

“For a long time we’ve wanted that kind of connectivity to the river and to the World Heritage site since they’re just down the street,” Viagran said.

“Now we are seeing that with our partner GateOne. They have a vision at Stinson and they’ve invested in it. It’s paying off in more attention, visitors and planes in the area. So we’re going to have a new clientele come in there, and more economic development and job opportunities at Stinson.”

Thomas Matthew, GateOne’s owner, said his fixed base operation (FBO) at the Stinson terminal is a departure from the previous FBO, which functioned offsite. GateOne, as a result, has better access to all points of the airport.

GateOne has upgraded equipment and furniture to a higher quality level that most frequent flyers are used to seeing at major airports. Matthew believes this will help lead to even more air traffic at Stinson.

“We also like to think all this contributes to San Antonio’s economy, not just directly but with ancillary investments – more people here means more at nearby hotels, meeting venues, restaurants, bars and recreational places,” he said. “One reason we came to Stinson was the Southside’s growth.”

The proposed FY 2016 budget contains money that will help to prepare land at Stinson for development of T-hangars and corporate hangars.

In recent years, Stinson Airport has been the scene of partnerships. It hosts pilot and aviation management classes offered by Palo Alto College. It is a public safety hub, featuring a Texas Department of Public Safety hangar, the San Antonio Police Department’s air unit, and a dedicated fire station. Stinson also is home to the Texas Air Museum.

“With all this, you’re going to see more business and buzz at Stinson and we want to make sure we highlight it because it is 100 years old and a jewel,” said Viagran, who also chairs the Stinson’s anniversary planning committee. “It is part of the revitalization we’re seeing throughout the South Side and District 3.”

Viagran said the proposed hike-and-bike trail is not currently planned for funding, but it is in the airport’s master plan. Regardless, she sees much potential in improved connectivity.

“The hike and bike trail, we want to make it a more direct route yet very nature oriented,” she said. “That way, people riding down the river will be able to see Stinson, (Mission San Juan Capistrano) and go back to the river. People flying into the area should be able to grab a B-cycle, connect down to the missions, then have something to eat at The Brown Bag, get back in their plane and go.”

Mission San Juan. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mission San Juan. Photo by Scott Ball.

Tim O’Krongley, Assistant Director of the Aviation Department, agreed with Viagran that any trail from the main terminal to the missions would be simple yet reflect the area’s history. O’Krongley added the future planning for Stinson involves a variety of stakeholders, including tenants and neighboring residents.

“Stinson values its community and sees it as a partner and vice versa,” he added.

Brown Bag owner Jaynee Escobedo said she thinks the familiarity that SAT visitors and employees have built up for her Wetmore location helped the City to choose her restaurant to serve diners at Stinson. The second location began operations earlier this month.

She doesn’t live on the Southside, but Escobedo was interested in the challenge of expanding her business there, and understands that Stinson plays a key part in Southside’s development.

“I’ve seen tremendous improvements at Stinson and I’ve noticed the growth in the missions area. There’s much more traffic and opportunity here now,” she added.

These factors and more rank high in the minds of other Council members such as Mike Gallagher (D10) and Roberto Treviño (D1). It comes at a time when the City has lately addressed how improvements at SAT, more direct flights, regional commuter rail and the return of ridesharing can bolster San Antonio’s growing economy.

“All of Council is on board with the idea that Stinson is an investment we really need to make. It’s a relief valve for (SAT) especially for all the medium and small aircraft that come here,” Gallagher said.

A licensed pilot with plenty of experience at Stinson, Trevino said the success of an airport system is vital to a city’s health and prosperity. He calls Stinson “iconic,” appreciating what it has offered the community over the last 100 years.

“I fly into Stinson, I love that airport. I used to sit on the Airport Advisory Commission and had been pushing for these improvements and new services for years,” he said.

Treviño also said a trail to the missions area can enhance the flow of business and recreational to and from Stinson. He even supports a park along the trail.

“Places like Stinson are a source of pride in the community,” he added.

*Featured/top image: Stinson Municipal Airport. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio. 

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.