G-RAMP funding still elusive

The blueprints are drawn. The potential contractors have been identified. G-RAMP is almost ready to take off.

First the bill needs to be paid.

The Georgia-Robins Aerospace Maintenance Partnership, commonly known as G-RAMP, would enlarge the Robins Air Force Base airfield into property north of the base. The bill for the first phase of G-RAMP is estimated at about $42 million, said Gary Lee, director of the Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency. The first phase of G-RAMP will include “the development of the actual hangars” large enough to fit a C-17 aircraft, Lee said.

However, funding for the project remains elusive.

Earlier this year, the city of Warner Robins had hopes of funding the project under the economic stimulus bill. While the base stands to receive more than $30 million in stimulus funds for various projects, no funds were appropriated for G-RAMP.

With no stimulus funds, G-RAMP proponents were forced to look in other directions to pay for the project.

“No [Department of Defense] funds at all are supporting G-RAMP,” said Scott Dotson, a Robins community liaison for the project. “All the money is downtown, so to speak,” he said, referring to the city.

Where “downtown” will find the money is still not clear. Lee refused to discuss specific sources of funding for the project.

The city has applied for an “economic stimulus bond” of $25 to $30 million, Warner Robins Mayor Donald Walker said. Walker estimated that the city has “applied for a total of $11 million in grants” from various government agencies. As of Tuesday, no monetary grants for the G-RAMP project had been announced.

In 2006, Houston County voters approved a $720,000 measure to build a road to the new portion of the airfield. The provision is set to expire in 2012.

The lack of available funding has not stopped plans for the project from moving forward.

In June, Walker met with officials from The McDuffie Group, Rosser Engineering and Panattoni Construction. The three companies are set to oversee the project, but none has been awarded a contract.

Warner Robins officials can point to one step forward in realizing their vision for G-RAMP: Robins property that the state of Georgia owns, including a B-1 bomber hangar, already has been turned over for the project.

“We used the B-1 hangar up there to validate the concept,” said Ron Smith of the 21st Century Partnership, a nonprofit organization that supports community cooperation with Robins.

“The concept,” Lee said, is “a private-public partnership.”

The private-public nature of G-RAMP is the reason for the high level of interest in the project. The Warner Robins Air Logistics Center and the city of Warner Robins stand to gain mightily from G-RAMP’s development, proponents say.

The air logistics center is one of three similar Air Force maintenance depots — the others are Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma and Odgen Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The three often compete for maintenance workloads.

Robins Air Force Base officials believe G-RAMP would expand the base’s maintenance capabilities, possibly attracting new aircraft and work orders to Robins.