Where Will The PiperJet Be Built?
The hot topic in political circles around Vero Beach, Fla., these days is the future of its largest manufacturer, Piper Aircraft, and it appears some local officials are ready to use taxpayers' money to ensure that the company's latest project -- the PiperJet -- is built there. A proposal is being floated that would involve Indian River County becoming Piper's benevolent landlord. "I'd like to see them build the jet here in Indian River County," County Commission Chairman Gary Wheeler told Scripps News Service on Thursday. "I'd like to see something worked out where the county buys the land and leases it back for $1." On Dec. 20, Piper CFO Michael Kelley wrote Vero Beach City Manager Jim Gabbard to let him know Piper had hired a Boston consultant to scout potential locations for the jet plant. Among the options consultant BDO Siedman has been told to consider is an expansion of the existing facilities at Vero Beach.
Wheeler's proposal mirrors a deal struck when the Los Angeles Dodgers mused about finding a new spring training camp location. The county bought the "Dodgertown" complex from the team and the ball club leased it back for $1 a year. Piper has issued several public statements in recent weeks complaining about escalating insurance and tax costs in Vero Beach, but company spokesman Mark Miller recently wrote a letter to the editor in a local newspaper saying there was "no agenda or plan to leave Vero Beach." Miller told AVweb on Friday that there has been no change in the company's position so far. "Moreover," he said, "this will be a very long process." At least one local politician appears to be suggesting that Piper is there to stay, regardless of the apparent PR exercise. "They're staying, so end of conversation, period," County Commission Vice Chairman Patricia Bowden said. "That's where it sits, I don't play cat and mouse."