It’s a disagreement that may disappoint many. Today we visit the Rio Grande Valley Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Those in Brownsville know it as the home of Air Fiesta. In 2018 that air show is no more.
Air Fiesta Chairman David Hughston tells us that “The City of Brownsville and the airport determined it is no longer in the best interest of the city to spend the money it takes to support the facility.”
A difficult task was set due to a tight budget. According to the airport director, a big cost to airport is the CAF. For 26 years, the City of Brownsville paid for the facility’s rent and utilities. The airport submitted a request to the museum to make a proposal that would have the museum pay rent.
Hughston says, “When I met with Mr. Walker initially he told me about the rent and the utilities, if we have to do that we need to move.”
We met with the airport director to tell us about the lease agreement. Bryant Walker has been directing the Brownsville SPI Airport since 2016. He tells us the museum signed a lease in 1991 that they would pay 5,000 dollars a month. He says a clause in the lease allowed the city to cover cost when the museum could not afford to pay the full amount.
Walker says he museum has “actually never generated to my knowledge any payment for rent in the time they’ve been here.”
“Our lease expired in 1996 and the city nor the airport never renewed, never renegotiated. We’ve been operating without a lease for 21 years.” adds Hughston.
We asked how the lack of payment could go unnoticed without enforcement by the airport.
“It didn’t go unnoticed, there is absolutely intrinsic value in having an airshow in Brownsville…. In terms of whether or not it was seen in the past or went unnoticed, it didn’t … A strong enough case was made that it was more value that it was a cost.
It was a cost that paid for by the City of Brownsville and its Taxpayers for the Past 26 Years.
According to our interview with Walker, we estimate over 1.5 million in Rent. About 500,0000 in utilities, a million to build the facility, and an estimated 86,000 a year to operate the airshow.
By our Estimates that’s over 5 million paid by the taxpayer.
The CAF makes money from museum visits and the Air Fiesta. They tell us they generate $252,000 in revenue and spend 200,000 in expenses. That leaves them with roughly 4 thousand dollars a month. Not enough to cover rent, utilities, or airplane upkeep.
So what’s happening to the museum and what is happening to the air show. The museum is in talks with the Cameron County Airport near Bayview to see if they can relocate. As far as the airshow, they say they will be back one day. The Brownsville SPI Airport says they plan an airshow upon completion of their new terminal in 2020.