Wednesday, October 7 , 2015, 2:19 pm | Fair 78º

Santa Barbara Will Sell Airport Land to Direct Relief

By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @ginapotthoff |

The City of Santa Barbara has entered into a deal to sell several acres of land near the Santa Barbara Airport to humanitarian nonprofit Direct Relief.

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to approve the sale of land north of Hollister Avenue in the airport’s commercial industrial area so the Santa Barbara-based international humanitarian aid organization can build a new state-of-the-art facility at 6100 Hollister Ave.

The deal stipulates that Direct Relief will pay a base price of $25 per square foot of land — between $6.5 million and $8.5 million — for 6 to 8.5 acres, dependent on a final survey and development plans.

That facility, slated to open in 2016, will replace the nonprofit’s existing building at 27 S. La Patera Lane and a warehouse across the street, deemed too small by organization officials who have been searching for a new spot the past two years.

Airport Director Hazel Johns briefed the council on the history of the 15-acre property, which included a number of development proposals since 1997, but none that stuck.

While the land and existing buildings have been used for temporary short-term rental — generating rental income of approximately $300,000 annually to the airport — they’re subject to certain Federal Aviation Administration regulations, including a requirement that the airport receive fair market value for its use.

A Santa Barbara City Charter restriction limiting leases to 50-year terms was another hurdle.

Failed proposals have included two single-tenant developments, an industrial condo project (2007), a one-acre parcel for a Verizon maintenance and storage facility (2009), a hotel (2010), four proposals from Target to build a retail facility (2004-10) and a proposal from Deckers Outdoor Corp. in 2010 to build corporate offices.

Direct Relief, which was founded in Santa Barbara in 1948, approached the airport with an unsolicited proposal last year, hoping to expand so the growing privately funded apolitical organization could continue operating one of the nation’s largest charitable medicine programs that provides supplies during local, state and national emergencies.

Direct Relief is planning to build a new facility with approximately 100,000 square feet of warehouse space and 25,000 square feet of office space.

Johns said Direct Relief would pay a fair market value, with sale proceeds going to support airport operations and to construct new commercial industrial buildings.

The nonprofit will also make annual community support payments to the city, construct an access road and give the city a right to reacquire the property at a 10 percent discount if the organization ever decided to sell it.

Direct Relief President Thomas Tighe thanked officials and said he was confident donors would support an upcoming fundraising campaign for the project, but he did not give a timeframe.

“We drive by that parcel every day and see that it’s not used,” Tighe said. “It seemed like a perfect match.”

Although City Councilman Gregg Hart said he struggled with the sale, since staff so often referred to the deal as “unprecedented,” he ultimately vowed support because he wants Direct Relief to stick around.

“This is truly an exceptional circumstance,” Hart said.

City Councilman Bendy White said he was skeptical of the proposal, but Direct Relief representatives nodded in ascent when he asked if the nonprofit could make the smallest footprint possible.

The airport will continue using the property until escrow closes, and Direct Relief will conduct an 18-month feasibility period.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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