Fred Himovitz doesn't mind being a pioneer. He's been successful at it at Scottsdale Airpark, and he's hoping to repeat that performance at Williams Gateway Airport in southeast Mesa.
Since 1980, the president of Himovitz Properties has built about 500,000 square feet of industrial buildings around the Scottsdale Municipal Airport. With north Scottsdale industrial land almost built out, he has his eyes fixed on Williams Gateway Airport as the East Valley's next big aviation-based employment center.
The 60-year-old developer broke ground Monday on his fourth Williams Gateway project, a 15,700-square-foot office building that is the fourth and final phase of his $18 million Cimarron office and hangar complex. But Cimarron is just the start for Himovitz. He's negotiating to build a 25,000-square-foot cargo warehouse, which he expects will be used by local companies that ship and import products from around the world, bypassing the busy cargo centers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.
Construction of that warehouse is expected to begin shortly, once lease terms are final, and it may be operating by the first quarter of next year. The cargo warehouse will be the first phase of what will eventually become an 80,000-square-foot cargo complex. Also he is planning a 35,500-square-foot, two-building complex that will be used by a Boeing subcontractor for aircraft refitting and painting. Construction could begin within three to four months.
Himovitz sees Scottsdale Airpark as the model for his flight plan at Williams Gateway, with one difference. Because Williams, a former Air Force base, offers three runways instead of one, he expects more of its business uses will be aviation oriented. North Scottsdale, in contrast, has attracted a range of industrial and office activities — not all of them related to aviation.
“Scottsdale was driven by the availability of industrial land and its strategic location,” he said. “Williams has more opportunities for big aviation enterprises because of the potential for cargo and passenger service.”
The announcement in April that Sky Harbor will help Williams market its cargo and passenger services should give the East Valley airport a boost, he said. Himovitz called the agreement “a brilliant use of community resources” that should benefit Williams while relieving some of the development pressures at Sky Harbor. Because he has no signed tenants, Himovitz' newest office building is being built on speculation. But he's in discussions with several possible tenants and expects aviation-related businesses in his other buildings to expand into the new structure.
The building will include state-of-the-art amenities such as high-speed Internet access and an aviation architecture theme.
So far Himovitz is the only developer to land at Williams Gateway in a big way, but he may soon have company. Another unidentified developer is designing office, warehouse and hangar space for a parcel on the north side of the airport, according to Williams Gateway officials. Himovitz said he would welcome the company because interest by others would indicate he's not alone in seeing potential for the former air force base. When Williams is “discovered,”
Himovitz expects a stampede. “What really is holding back the airport is the (San Tan) freeway,” he said. “As soon as the freeway looks like its coming, people will migrate over here.”
Himovitz praised the Williams authority staff, saying they have included him in airport planning and will market his new cargo warehouse. “That partnership is vital,” he said. Despite the expanding activity, Williams is far from self-supporting. The airport authority, a joint venture of Mesa, Gilbert, Queen Creek and the Gila River Indian Community, has an annual operating budget of about $8 million. But the airport generates annual revenue of only $4.5 million, mostly from fuel sales and leases, said director Lynn Kusy.
While the taxpayer subsidy has declined from $5 million two years ago to a projected $3.3 million next year, it will take five to 10 years for the airport to break even, he said.