1 of 12
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
A security gate at the South Valley Regional Airport in West Jordan is seen on Monday, March 20, 2017. City officials plan to complete a study over the next year for possible commercial expansion opportunities at the airport.

WEST JORDAN — The runways at the South Valley Regional Airport are familiar to Kim Rolfe, who was a licensed pilot before he took office as West Jordan's mayor.

But as Rolfe toured the airport Monday, he saw it as something more than a hub for hobbyists like himself.

Rolfe pictured the 6,000 acres of undeveloped land in West Jordan, and how the small airport within his city could be an economic tool — rather than an obstacle — to foster economic development in his city.

Instead of just 900 acres of Federal Aviation Administration regulated land, Rolfe sees a unique way to attract big-name businesses and "thousands" of jobs to West Jordan.

He sees it as a tool to attract high-tech companies, not unlike Facebook — a deal that fell through last year to West Jordan leaders' dismay amid controversy over an up-to $250 million tax break deal to lure the social media giant to the community's undeveloped west side.

Instead of a tax break, Rolfe sees a different way to attract corporate headliners: increased capacity for private and corporate jets — what he said would be a "huge asset" to big businesses — and perhaps more hotels near the airport and rental car services to make the airport more user-friendly for traveling executives.

"It could be an economic boon to us," Rolfe said.

But there's a catch.

Although the airport is located within West Jordan, it's owned and operated by Salt Lake City, which purchased the land decades ago to support its international airport, about 10 miles north.

West Jordan didn't have a seat at the table with Salt Lake City Airport Board members — that is, until last month.

A new bill passed by the Utah Legislature this year, HB453, requires cities that own airports in another municipality to give those respective municipalities a seat on the airport's advisory board.

But even before the bill was passed, Salt Lake City opened up two more slots on its board — one for West Jordan and the other for Tooele County, which hosts Salt Lake City's other regional airport, the Tooele Valley Airport.

Although the new law would set into stone the requirement, Salt Lake City officials figured why wait to start carrying out its aim, which was to increase collaboration between West Jordan, Tooele County and Salt Lake City, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan.

"There historically hasn't been a lot of cooperation between the cities," Coleman said, so the spirit of the new legislation was "to bring everybody together."

As the Salt Lake City International Airport is receiving billions for expansion, Rolfe said "it's an exciting time" for West Jordan, too, especially now that the city must take every opportunity it can to maximize its economic development opportunities as land across the Wasatch Front becomes increasingly scarce.

"When I used to have my planes out here, we didn't have the seat at the table," he said. "We have a seat now. I'm really excited. I look forward to a really bright future."

And after just one month on the board, Rolfe is already seeing progress.

The Salt Lake City Airport Board voted last week to budget $4 million to add up to 28 new hangars in 2018 to the South Valley Regional Airport, which currently houses 155 hangars.

That would mean "a big addition" to the airport to increase corporate traffic, Rolfe said.

The money still needs to be approved by Salt Lake City's mayor and council.

Rolfe said his city is already "actively pursuing" high-tech businesses that have expressed interest in having space at a regional airport.

While he doesn't foresee any large passenger planes ever landing on South Valley's runways, he does expect increased corporate traffic to come with the hangar space.

But West Jordan isn't the only municipality seeing opportunity where planes fly.

Tooele County Commissioner Wade Bitner, who has also been appointed to the airport board, said Tooele County is expected to grow by 100,000 people in the next 20 to 25 years, meaning "whether we like it or not, we are changing from rural to somewhat urban."

With that growth, Bitner also sees the Tooele Valley Airport as a tool to foster economic growth — but first it'll need the basics that the West Jordan airport already enjoys.

For example, the Tooele Valley Airport doesn't have sewer hookups, so its visitors or businesses — like Skydive Utah — have to use portable toilets.

Tooele County officials hope their representation on the Salt Lake Airport Board will help bring water lines to the airport and foster more room for growth and more corporate appeal.

"It would be a win-win situation," Bitner said.

4 comments on this story

Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne said conversations with Salt Lake City haven't made any traction in recent years, so he hopes board representation will improve that cooperation.

Mayor Jackie Biskupski spokesman Matthew Rojas said the mayor's office is "completely supportive" of the airport board's new appointees and working with city and county leaders to help achieve their goals.

"We want to be good neighbors to West Jordan and Tooele County," Rojas said. "We recognize they should have a say, and we're very supportive of the city and county getting involved to work with Salt Lake City to really utilize these two airports."