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"Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport leader Kusy has former base at full throttle"
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Gateway Airport leader Kusy has former base at full throttle
By Art Thomason
The Arizona Republic
Lynn Kusy left a small Arkansas city for Mesa in 1993 to turn a potential
economic nightmare into a multi-million-dollar dream.
"My job in Blytheville was a place holder," he said. "But this is the place
I wanted to be. I loved Arizona."
About to begin his 20th year at the helm of what is now Phoenix-Mesa Gateway
Airport, Kusy has been a leader in its development as the nation's most
successful military-base-to-commercial-airport conversion, say others who
played key roles in the transition.
Many forget that he helped Arizona secure its predecessor, Williams Air
Force Base, from the Pentagon for its makeover as an aerospace and research
center, said retired Air Force Col. Joe Martin.
It was a time in which the ambitious blueprint of Kusy and others was
challenged by fears over the base's closure, the loss of its nearly 4,000
military jobs and predictions of resulting economic turmoil.
What has come to fruition is Kusy's vision of an airport, now with two
airlines, that is becoming one of the Southeast Valley's most promising
generators of jobs, college degrees and innovation.
Martin, who was by Kusy's side during the early years, had been assigned to
oversee the base transfer in 1994 for the Base Realignment and Closure
Commission created by Congress to provide a non-partisan review of
military-installation closure recommendations by the Department of Defense.
"In one word, Lynn Kusy's contribution to Gateway airport is success," said
Martin of Gilbert. "I believe he has been able to blend everything together
for its future. And that is difficult, considering that so many different
communities take part in it."
Kusy, a likable man with a gentle demeanor, touched down in Mesa after a
Southeast Valley intergovernmental group that was then responsible for
developing civilian operations at the base hired him as executive director.
When the transfer was completed, he was appointed executive director of the
airport, a job in which he never seeks the limelight even though he is often
thrust in front of the public.
Rarely does he confront the airport's five-member governing board with
proposals unless he is confident of their approval, and he's the first to
attribute the airport's achievements to the labors and talents of his staff
and airport clients.
But Kusy's public persona also belies his acumen and energy as
behind-the-scenes consensus builder and boss who calls out employees who
fail to meet the airport's "providing exceptional service" mission.
At 65, he shrugs off speculation that he will retire immediately after his
20 years of service, although he acknowledges that he has considered the
inevitability of post-career golf and uninterrupted reading, two of his
passions, beginning sometime in 2013.
"It will be very difficult to replace him," said Martin. "I don't know
anybody who's had a job like his for almost 20 years. It's going to take a
rare individual. Remember, he has five different bosses."
Those bosses are the mayors of Mesa, Gilbert, Queen Creek and Phoenix and
the governor of the Gila River Indian Community, who make up the airport
authority's governing board and control the airport's budget.
It is an alliance that Kusy has treated deftly and calls the "underpinning"
of the airport's success.
"One of the critical elements has been the intergovernmental cooperation,"
he said. "Because of that interaction here, it has spilled over into other
Officials of other Arizona airports call it a cooperation that led to a
regional success story.
Jordan Feld, director of planning for Tucson International Airport, said
Kusy excells at bridging community-development goals with airport
"He truly understands this critical link in our economy and has succeeded in
advocating for the role of airports in the betterment of our region," Feld
Deborah Ostreicher, Deputy Aviation Director at Phoenix Sky Harbor
International Airport, calls Kusy a "true visionary."
"He is focused not just on Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, but on the
economics of the entire region," she said. "Jobs and community vitality
nearly always follow the development of an airport, so Lynn's vision is
already becoming a reality."
During a recent interview, Kusy sat in his spacious office recounting his
Gateway tenure that has been longer than he expected.
His office walls and tables are accentuated with models of airline jets,
pilot-autographed photos of Air Force One and other military aircraft that
trace the airfield's World War II-era origins and plans for its future.
It was March, 1993, when the Williams Intergovernmental Agreement Group
hired him as one of relatively few planning professionals in the country
with expertise in the civilian reuse of military installations.
He was in Arkansas to direct the then-redevelopment of Eaker Air Force Base
after beginning his base-reuse training at the former Rickenbacker Air Force
Base near Columbus, Ohio.
Like Williams, Eaker and Rickenbacker were on the 1991 list of bases that
the BRAC recommended for closure.
Not long after the announcement, Terry Isaacson hooked up with Kusy and
Isaacson, a former Wing Commander at Williams Air Force Base, had accepted a
job with Arizona State University after his retirement to work with the
intergovernmental transition team to create a university campus at the
"This was all pretty new at the time and everything we were doing locally
was a blueprint for base reuse," said Isaacason, a retired Air Force
colonel, Tempe resident and novelist.
"Lynn was always level-headed on every transaction and really smart on the
issues and had good connections in the federal government," Isaacson said.
"He was a good resource as well as a working colleague. That was important
Isaacson said his thoughts are often reinforced today.
"Every time I go out there I swell up with pride again," he said.
About Lynn Kusy
Served as executive director of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport since its
inception in 1993.
Graduated from Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill., with a Bachelor of Arts
degree in geography with an emphasis on urban development.
Served as a senior staff person and executive director of several regional
planning commissions in Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio.
Appointed executive director of Rickenbacker Port Authority in Columbus,
Ohio, in 1980, responsible for the redevelopment of the former Rickenbacker
Air Force Base.
Became executive director of the Blytheville-Gosnell Regional Airport
Authority, Blytheville, Ark., in 1991, responsible for the reuse of the
former Eaker Air Force Base.
Serves on the American Association of Airport Executives Policy Review
Committee and the association's Airport Magazine Editorial Advisory Board;
board member of the East Valley Partnership, the Arizona State University
Polytechnic Campus Community Board, the East Valley Aviation and Aerospace
Alliance and Arizona State University's Aeronautical Management Technology
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