In January 2024, the Boulder City Council is expected to decide what to do with the city's airport. Credit: John Herrick

In January 2024, city officials plan to make a recommendation to the Boulder City Council on a vision for the Boulder Municipal Airport, marking a pivotal moment for the facility with a decades-long history in the city’s northeast corner. 

In advance of this recommendation, city officials have hired a consultant and have been gathering feedback from community members on four potential scenarios. Those options include keeping the airport as is, upgrading certain facilities, adding some “live/work” areas and community amenities, such as a cafe, or shutting it down to build housing. An online questionnaire about these options closes Aug. 2. 

As this public engagement process unfolds, some councilmembers may have to decide where they stand in the coming months. 

Five seats on the Boulder City Council, including the position of mayor, are up for election this year. Three current councilmembers are planning to run for city mayor — Bob Yates, Nicole Speer and Mayor Aaron Brockett. Tara Winer is seeking reelection. 

Whether to redevelop some or all of the airport’s 179 acres into housing could become part of the debate over how to address the city’s high cost of housing. Historically, the city’s housing crisis has been a top election issue. So where candidates stand on repurposing the airport for housing could sway some voters.  

“It’s going to influence my vote,” Bryn Grunwald told Boulder Reporting Lab at a town hall event about the airport on July 18. 

Grunwald supports closing the airport to build housing. She sees it as a chance to allow more workers who commute into Boulder to live here, and potentially drive down greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution from cars. 

“This whole area can be connected to bike paths,” Grunwald added. “This is a significant opportunity to connect people to the center of Boulder in a way where they are not driving.” 

The general aviation airport, dating back to 1928, is home to about 170 aircraft, including fixed-wing planes, gliders and two helicopters. It’s used primarily by private pilots, people training to become pilots or those who fly glider planes. Last year, the airport saw more than 60,000 annual operations, which include take-offs and landings, according to city records. 

Proponents of the airport see it as a community asset for pilot training, scientific research and certain emergency operations. 

Some candidates running in this year’s election attended the town hall to help make sense of the debate. 

“I’m here open minded. I haven’t made a decision one way or the other,” council candidate Terri Brncic, a financial consultant who helped launch the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot measure campaign, told Boulder Reporting Lab at the town hall. 

Brncic has already listed the airport as one of her top issues on her website. She said she’s leaning toward supporting closing the airport. “We have such acute needs for housing,” she said. “This is a really good opportunity.” 

Neighbors who live near the airport have filed complaints related to noise. Others are concerned about potential lead exposure from leaded fuel, which is sold at the airport. For these reasons, Councilmember Winer said she supports closing the airport. She also said the city is “desperate for housing” and sees the airport as a rare opportunity to build more of it.  

“The voters say, when I go door to door, the number one thing is affordable housing. Not ‘I want the airport,’” she said.

Mayor Brockett also attended the town hall and was less decided. 

“I’m involved in the public process right now, so I’m not predetermining the outcome. We’re in the middle of hearing from everybody and learning people’s perspectives, of which there are a wide variety,” Brockett said.

“I’m looking forward to analyzing the data some more, looking at all the feedback and talking about the next steps,” he added.  

Councilmember Wallach, a real estate developer, has been advocating for the airport to be closed since first running for city council in 2019. Wallach is not up for reelection this year. His term expires in 2025. 

“I look at this, and I see one opportunity to actually move the needle on middle-income housing,” Wallach told Boulder Reporting Lab. 

If the city owns the land, he said, it can place conditions on development that it cannot with housing projects built on private land. This includes requiring that homes be built at a price point for middle-income earners. 

Many people still have questions about the costs and benefits of the airport. 

The city earns about $800,000 in revenue from the airport, according to Aisha Ozaslan, a spokesperson for the city. This money comes from leasing hangers and taxing fuel sales, among other sources. All revenue goes into an enterprise fund and is spent on the airport. 

An unknown cost to closing the airport is how much the city would have to pay the Federal Aviation Administration, which has given the city grant money to buy land and build landing strips. Those grants may have assurances that the city keeps the airport operating, according to an FAA official

The FAA has funded the purchase of 49 acres at the airport for aviation use, according to a 2018 city staff memo. The city may have to sell that land at fair-market value and repay the FAA, costing the city about $100 million, the memo states. But whether the city will have to pay back the FAA — and if so, how much —  is likely to require more research, according to city officials. 

“The financial cost for decommissioning the airport is not based on FAA funding award amounts alone, but on other factors such as the value and amount of acreage considered part of the airport,” Ozaslan told Boulder Reporting Lab in an email. “More discussion between the FAA and the City Attorney’s Office would be needed to determine the actual dollar amount.”

‘There is lower-hanging fruit’

The future of the airport is certainly not the only issue on the minds of voters this election. 

Some political organizers have said they plan to endorse candidates who make it a top priority to clear out encampments of homeless people. Others appear focused on the issue of housing density. 

“It’s certainly an opportunity to build a significant amount of housing, so it certainly should be discussed during this election,” Eric Budd, an organizer with the Boulder Progressives, a political organization that endorses candidates and ballot measures, said of the airport’s closure. 

But, Budd added, development could be a decade or more away. Instead of focusing on the airport, Budd said he is concentrating on changing land-use and zoning policies in order to increase the supply of housing. This includes allowing triplexes and four-plexes in single-family home neighborhoods where they are currently prohibited, for instance. 

“The housing crisis is now,” Budd said. “And there is lower hanging fruit than taking 15 or 20 years on the airport. It’s important for the long-term. But it’s just not going to fix our housing crisis.”

John Herrick is senior reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness. Email:

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  1. The direct $800,000 economic benefit to the city has been cited a couple of time times, but it seems like some of the indirect economic benefits have not. The CDOT website provides some data from 2018: 299 jobs, $16 million in payroll, $54 million in revenues and $26 million in value added.

    It would be helpful to understand what mechanisms would need to be used to fund the potentially $100 million owed to the FAA; bond issuance? At nearly $560,000 per acre that cost would rival and exceed many private lots in Boulder County, to be borne by tax payers with economic benefits (e.g. property taxes from 2,000 units) that are uncertain compared to those economic benefits lost with the removal of the airport.

    Comparing this to the redevelopment of East Boulder which will yield over 5,000 units and didn’t encumber the city in $100 million in debt (while removing a piece of infrastructure that can’t be replaced), I strongly agree that potential candidates should clearly indicate whether they support redevelopment as soon as possible. Rezoning seems to be a far less costly way to help with Boulder’s housing constraints.

  2. “The city earns about $800,000 in revenue from the airport, according to Aisha Ozaslan, a spokesperson for the city. This money comes from leasing hangers and taxing fuel sales, among other sources. All revenue goes into an enterprise fund and is spent on the airport. ” This is patently false. The airport yields $50k on a good year to the city. The city is not getting $800k from the airport. Hangar leases stay on airport- not to the city. The airport doesn’t even pay real estate taxes to the city like the rest of us do. Pilots only pay $300-500/month for 1,000+ square feet for their hangars. No one else pays that little and yet these are for hobby planes. The “$100 million” is a pass-through in the sale of the land at market rate and even that is undetermined as this transaction with the FAA predates the current “you owe us back” policy. Even if the FAA decided to pursue current policy, the entire plot is worth nearly $400,000,000. The city comes out hundreds of millions ahead. Once it becomes anything but an airport, it can start delivering a ROI like other areas of the city rather than losing that ROI because the airport literally can’t bring money to the city. It’s only in fuel taxes and some service taxes. The rest stays on the airport. Per the CDOT reports, it’s based on approximations and estimates and we are lumped in the “DIA district” with larger airports, so those figures in reality have no relevance to BDU. In fact, there is zero data traceable from our airport to this report. Additionally, a better way to look at the CDOT report is comparing that to another model such as a mixed use district which, if following the same “multiplier impacts”, would blow the airport out of the water. The Boulder airport struggles to afford to mow the lawn no a regular basis, and it looks like abandoned barracks. It’s crumbling and run down. It would cost millions to get it up to speed. We can retain emergency services while deactivating the runway for community needs. It’s better fiscally and environmentally.

    1. That’s interesting data — is the $750k descrepancy public somewhere? Is there a developer who came up with the $400m number? Are these numbers public or only for those within City Hall/developers/consultants? I should note that one can also trace tens of millions of dollars in improvements on the land that were funded by the FAA that likely haven’t been fully depreciated and might need to be paid back.

      The CDOT data seemed accurate enough for the state to publish it; it was also apparently accurate enough to be used in the 2007 Boulder Municipal Airport Master Plan as an impartial and “independent source” at the time. The idea that Boulder only benefits from fuel taxes and service taxes seems disingenuous. Hard to say where 2,000 middle income units would land on property tax — low single digit millions seems right. Obviously redevelopment would bring economic activity, but so too could redevelopment of open space, agricultural reserves and other infrastructure within the city. But let’s see those numbers then, not just have them behind closed doors.

      It seems like the biggest issue here is that the city engaged with costly consultants to push the redevelopment agenda and is holding performative public commentary periods. At the first open house there were tons of people arguing for the status quo; yet the consultants were pushing everyone to “dream big” instead. It would be great to see all of the public comment and survey data fully published. How many people in the surveys want full redevelopment vs. status quo?

      The great news is that if the airport is as blighted as its opponents seem to argue, there are likely additional FAA grants that could fully rehabilitate it without taking City of Boulder dollars. It’s pretty remarkable that this supposedly dilapidated piece of infrastructure still serves tens of thousands of landings/takeoffs per year and so many jobs.

      It’s an interesting argument about retaining services — is this really true with an event like the 2013 floods? Where would you stage services for literally thousands of displaced people again?

      I would also to see a clearly quantified study on the leaded aviation gas exposure to those in the area of influence like myself. I unfortunately suspect that sadly the carbon footprint of 2,000 new homes with heating, cars and AC is far higher than that of the aircraft (not that I believe that we should stop building homes because of it!). The environmental argument is weak at best.

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