Remembering Craig’s glory days

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Craig Air Force Base closed in 1977-78. Three years later, after unwinding miles of red tape and spending months of negotiations with the Federal Government, the City of Selma and Dallas County purchased the former base and deeded it to their newly-organized Craig Airport and Industrial Authority.

Selma attorney John Pilcher, chairman of the board of the Authority, is proud of the fact that “although we began with borrowed money, we have operated from day one without being on the payroll of the city and the county.”

“And everybody here is proud of this place,” adds Authority Executive Director Menzo Driskell.

Email newsletter signup

Operating income for Craig is obtained in several ways, Pilcher explains. “The government required us to be in the rental business of the 500 housing units on base. (Obtaining those required another struggle with the Government). Some of the units are eligible for sale, about half have been sold, according to Pilcher, and others are rented.

In a big boost for affordable housing, the Authority finances 97 percent of the purchase price of each unit.( For families with children living in base housing, Bruce K. Craig School is available on base.)

“So,” says Pilcher, “income is generated from the housing sales and their rental.”

Rent is also obtained from buildings housing commercial companies, which employ about 1,100 people. “Lands we don’t rent commercially, we rent for farming. Hay is one of the big crops, and several hundred acres of timber that is harvested and sold. We manage our resources.”

An interesting and popular adjunct (also generating income), to the former base is the golf course with nine holes and 18 tees, managed by golf professional Dick Bradberry.

The Authority also operates the Craig Airport itself, receiving income from that. The airport is considered one of the better small airports in the state, and is responsible for $35.52 million in annual economic activity. Located four miles southeast of Selma, the airport is approximately one mile west of U.S. Highway 80 and ner the junction of Highways 14 and 22.

The airport lies on 1,790 acres and has one runway, Runway 15/33, which measures 8,002 feet in length. With 25 aircraft based there, the airport has approximately 38,600 aircraft operations annually.

The runway has new lights, an instrument landing system maintained by Federal Aviation Authority, in addition to VOR for non-rated pilots. Craig Airport is the preferred emergency site for Dannelly Field.

Activities at the airport include corporate use, recreational flying and agricultural spraying.

There are occasional medical ships/patient transfers there and extensive use by local industries.

Over the years the Airport Authority has built 20 hangars, both enclosed and shade, and receives state and federal grants, 90 percent in grants with a 10 percent match from Craig. The next project will be resurfacing the runway, part of the Authority’s five-year master plan.

One of the newer and more unusual Craig industries is AirTech, Aerial Application Technologies, which is the South’s premier provider of turnkey reforestation and silviculture services. Its helicopter teams handle aerial application of herbicides, prescribed burning, tree planting, band spraying and fertilizing. Clients range from 40-acre landowners to industrial forest product companies, who use AirTech services.

Earlier projects account for construction of buildings occupied by varied industries: Louisiana Pacific, which runs 24 hours a deck making composite decking and employs 50-plus people; another is Composite Technology, and the 100,000-foot CDC Warehouse. Work is underway on a rail spur running from Highway 80 down Highway 41, crossing Craig and going on to adjacent South Dallas Industrial Park, which is a partner in the joint venture with Craig, along with repaving County Road 145. Craig has access to utilities and a sewage system and has developed up-to-date infrastructure. There is more, much more available and in the works for this asset to the city and county’s industrial growth.

Craig also has its own volunteer fire department, considered the best volunteer department in the state. Its property manager, Stewart Corley, was named Dallas County Firefighter of the Year.

Pilcher says he is “proud that we do it on our own. I view my role, my authority role, that of maintaining and administering the resources here, to make it ready for industry. The marketing of Craig is a function of the Centre for Commerce, the Economic Development Authority and Team Selma.

“We do not operate in a vacuum. If you don’t have a facility to be used, you can’t market it.”

Although the Federal Government sold the property to Craig, there are still strings attached to the National Park Service for the recreational areas and to the FAA for airport and industrial use. Craig is paid fair market price for its use and the moneys may only be used to improve the property.

Industries located in the 761,000 square feet of buildings in the industrial park are numerous and thriving. And there is more room available, including 69 acres of drained parking concrete. A little known loop is set aside for the use of State Troopers, who practice high speed chases there. After all, as Pilcher and Driskell emphasize, “We are here to serve.”