Newport News airport seeks new company to run its 96-home trailer park

Aside from the planes, runways and terminal, the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport has something else, too.

Homes.

The Patrick Henry Mobile Home Village — with 96 trailers on-site — brings in money to fund the airport’s bottom line.

But Peninsula Airport Commission member Rob Coleman said at last week’s board meeting that commissioners have had concerns with an outside contractor’s management — “or lack thereof” — of the trailer park.

Airport officials are now in the process of hiring a new management company to replace the current one — Tidewater Premier LLC — that’s had the job for about nine years.

“Airport management is not happy, and we are not happy either with our current management company,” Coleman said. “Hopefully we will get somebody that’s responsible and ready to do their job.”

The trailer park hasn’t generated as much cash as it once did — a more crucial issue now that reduced air service has crunched the airport’s budget.

After paying off expenses, the airport netted between $29,156 and $44,912 from the trailer park in its past three fiscal years, financial documents show. That compares to a $170,000 operating margin in 2006.

Coleman said the issue is also a “quality of life” one for trailer park residents.

“Things have been neglected, and there just hasn’t been a timely response,” he said. “Residents deserve to have a clean and safe environment. We’re behind on rents — rent collection — and just overall maintenance and enforcement of codes … It’s a daunting job, and we just need someone who is engaged and is going to get the job done.”

Airport Executive Director Mike Giardino said he’s auditing “each and every contract at the airport” for compliance — and “to get as much revenue out of the place as possible” under federal rules requiring airports to be as self-sustaining as they can.

Giardino said he wrote a “firmly worded letter” to Tidewater Premier a couple months ago, in part expressing concerns over housing and safety codes not being complied with.

“It was general neighborhood kind of stuff when it came to rules and regulations,” he said. “I love consistency and rules and regulations. That’s how we maintain safety and good order.”

When Giardino pointed out the issues to the company, he said, “They wrote us a letter back saying they quit.”

“We all agreed that it was just time to move on,” Coleman said.

Tidewater Premier’s owner, Dwight Taylor of Smithfield, did not return several phone calls last week seeking comment. His wife, Amy Taylor — who tenants said handled most of the day-to-day work — was reached but declined to comment.

Tidewater Premier will stop managing the park April 30, the airport said. Two companies submitted proposals by an April 3 closing date to run the trailer park for the next five years, with those bids now being reviewed.

The airport — which will manage the trailer park until a new company is hired — has had mobile homes since the 1950s.

Off McManus Boulevard, the park now extends over six streets, from Gulfstream Drive to the south to Westwind Drive to the north. There are streetlights, but no sidewalks, with the mobile homes ranging from neat and well-kept to run-down and cluttered.

Planes don't typically fly directly overhead, and residents say they’ve gotten used to the sounds at any rate.

“They don’t bother you that bad,” said Cody Gibson, 24, who’s lived at the park since he was 5 years old. “They’re loud every now and again, when you’ll be on the phone and you have to wait a second.”

Gibson — who now lives in the park with his wife, Christina Jones, 26, and their family — says he has more concerns with the way the airport — rather than Tidewater Premier — manages the property. But overall, he says, “I love it out here.”

“I grew up here,” Gibson said. “It’s like home to me. It’s quiet. Nobody messes with you. It’s definitely like a little hideaway from the city. Nobody knows it’s really back here.”

“I like most of the people,” added another trailer park resident, Pat Tilley, 74. “I don’t get out too much because I can’t walk too well. But nobody bothers me. I just stay in the house and mind my own business and don’t pay any attention to what anybody else is doing.”

Tilley said she knows she has to get rid of a large pile of clutter on her property, which she concedes is an eyesore.

“They haven’t come around and told me I need to get rid of my junk, but I know I need to,” she said. “It needs to be sorted out.”

Nancy Shifflett, 71, who’s lived in the trailer park for 31 years, said she would never leave the park, but says it’s had some problems lately that she doesn’t like.

“I love it,” she said. “If they just get rid of these druggies and these trouble makers.” Shifflett said there have been several fatal drug overdoses at the trailer park in recent years.

The park — visible through trees from the airport’s parking lot — now has 96 trailers, according to a Daily Press count. That’s down from 140 trailers in 2008, and far fewer than the 250 trailers on the site in the 1990s.

Rent — now at $399 a month — includes the land as well as water and sewer fees, with tenants maintaining their own trailers and paying for electricity.

According to airport financial statements, the trailer park took in $457,930 in rent in the fiscal year that ended last June.

After paying $413,018 in expenses related to the park — including water and sewer, other maintenance and Tidewater Premier’s fee — the airport netted a $44,912 margin on the operation.

That margin — about 10 percent — is far lower than what the airport sometimes reaped on the property years ago. In 2006, for example, the airport made $170,791 — a 42 percent operating margin — on rents of $410,967.

Under the contract, the management company is responsible for attracting tenants, collecting rents and charging late fees — and, if necessary, evicting tenants. The company also handles trash collection, inspects properties and enforces codes violations.

The airport maintenance staff is responsible for the park’s water and sewer systems, street repair, street light maintenance, tree limb maintenance and leaf removal from empty lots.

Tenants interviewed by the Daily Press said there was some “drama” with Tidewater Premier a couple years ago — where leases kept being changed and “nobody knew where to send the rent.”

But Gibson and Jones said the airport maintenance department has been more of a problem of late.

Gibson said airport maintenance would not fix a “giant hole” — five feet across and three feet deep — between his property line and the street. Water, he said, would sit for weeks in the gaping hole. But when he complained, Gibson said, he was told “that if it’s not my lot, it’s not my issue.”

So he finally filled it in himself.

“Then they chewed me out and said what I did wasn’t gonna drain and stuff,” Gibson said of airport workers. “And I’m like, “Dude, the water don’t drain anywhere anyways.’ It ain’t built right. There’s nowhere for the water to drain. The whole yard floods.”

“It’s hard to get to work sometimes” with the flooding, Jones said as she held the couple’s 1-year-old son, Albert.

Jones, Gibson and other residents also said that airport maintenance staff hasn’t done a good job clearing dead tree limbs and leaves from empty lots.

Shifflett, the 71-year-old tenant who’s been at the park three decades, said airport workers told her it was her job to pick up leaves and limbs from the empty lot next to hers. But she has a bad nerve in her leg, she said, and can’t do that.

“They said, ‘This is yours to clear,’ and I said, ‘Nope,’” Shifflett said. “Why should I come out here to pick up tree limbs and stuff?”

Giardino said he would be willing to meet one-on-one with anyone who has had problems with airport maintenance. “I’d be more than happy to sit down and address their concerns one-on-one,” he said. “My staff will be fully engaged, and it will be addressed.”

Meanwhile, Jones and Gibson praised Amy Taylor, the wife of Tidewater Premier’s owner who’s been recently managing the property. They said she’s been easy to work with and always returns phone calls.

“So far, she’s been the only one that anybody’s ever really liked,” Gibson said.

“She’s been an exquisite help,” Jones added. “When we get behind and everything, as long as we keep her updated, she was fine with helping us and letting us make payments … She helped us out a lot."

And when the couple had a leak in their trailer a few weeks ago, Gibson said, “She got right on top of it.”

Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749, pdujardin@dailypress.com

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