Gateway Airport at full throttle By Art Thomason The Arizona Republic Lynn Kusy left a small Arkansas city for Mesa in 1993 to turn a potential economic nightmare into a multi-million-dollar dream. "My job in Blytheville was a place holder," he said. "But this is the place I wanted to be. I loved Arizona." About to begin his 20th year at the helm of what is now Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, Kusy has been a leader in its development as the nation's most successful military-base-to-commercial-airport conversion, say others who played key roles in the transition. Many forget that he helped Arizona secure its predecessor, Williams Air Force Base, from the Pentagon for its makeover as an aerospace and research center, said retired Air Force Col. Joe Martin. It was a time in which the ambitious blueprint of Kusy and others was challenged by fears over the base's closure, the loss of its nearly 4,000 military jobs and predictions of resulting economic turmoil. What has come to fruition is Kusy's vision of an airport, now with two airlines, that is becoming one of the Southeast Valley's most promising generators of jobs, college degrees and innovation. Martin, who was by Kusy's side during the early years, had been assigned to oversee the base transfer in 1994 for the Base Realignment and Closure Commission created by Congress to provide a non-partisan review of military-installation closure recommendations by the Department of Defense. "In one word, Lynn Kusy's contribution to Gateway airport is success," said Martin of Gilbert. "I believe he has been able to blend everything together for its future. And that is difficult, considering that so many different communities take part in it." Kusy, a likable man with a gentle demeanor, touched down in Mesa after a Southeast Valley intergovernmental group that was then responsible for developing civilian operations at the base hired him as executive director. When the transfer was completed, he was appointed executive director of the airport, a job in which he never seeks the limelight even though he is often thrust in front of the public. Rarely does he confront the airport's five-member governing board with proposals unless he is confident of their approval, and he's the first to attribute the airport's achievements to the labors and talents of his staff and airport clients. But Kusy's public persona also belies his acumen and energy as behind-the-scenes consensus builder and boss who calls out employees who fail to meet the airport's "providing exceptional service" mission. At 65, he shrugs off speculation that he will retire immediately after his 20 years of service, although he acknowledges that he has considered the inevitability of post-career golf and uninterrupted reading, two of his passions, beginning sometime in 2013. "It will be very difficult to replace him," said Martin. "I don't know anybody who's had a job like his for almost 20 years. It's going to take a rare individual. Remember, he has five different bosses." Those bosses are the mayors of Mesa, Gilbert, Queen Creek and Phoenix and the governor of the Gila River Indian Community, who make up the airport authority's governing board and control the airport's budget. It is an alliance that Kusy has treated deftly and calls the "underpinning" of the airport's success. "One of the critical elements has been the intergovernmental cooperation," he said. "Because of that interaction here, it has spilled over into other cooperative ventures." Officials of other Arizona airports call it a cooperation that led to a regional success story. Jordan Feld, director of planning for Tucson International Airport, said Kusy excells at bridging community-development goals with airport management. "He truly understands this critical link in our economy and has succeeded in advocating for the role of airports in the betterment of our region," Feld said. Deborah Ostreicher, Deputy Aviation Director at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, calls Kusy a "true visionary." "He is focused not just on Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, but on the economics of the entire region," she said. "Jobs and community vitality nearly always follow the development of an airport, so Lynn's vision is already becoming a reality." During a recent interview, Kusy sat in his spacious office recounting his Gateway tenure that has been longer than he expected. His office walls and tables are accentuated with models of airline jets, pilot-autographed photos of Air Force One and other military aircraft that trace the airfield's World War II-era origins and plans for its future. It was March, 1993, when the Williams Intergovernmental Agreement Group hired him as one of relatively few planning professionals in the country with expertise in the civilian reuse of military installations. He was in Arkansas to direct the then-redevelopment of Eaker Air Force Base after beginning his base-reuse training at the former Rickenbacker Air Force Base near Columbus, Ohio. Like Williams, Eaker and Rickenbacker were on the 1991 list of bases that the BRAC recommended for closure. Not long after the announcement, Terry Isaacson hooked up with Kusy and Martin. Isaacson, a former Wing Commander at Williams Air Force Base, had accepted a job with Arizona State University after his retirement to work with the intergovernmental transition team to create a university campus at the soon-to-close base. "This was all pretty new at the time and everything we were doing locally was a blueprint for base reuse," said Isaacason, a retired Air Force colonel, Tempe resident and novelist. "Lynn was always level-headed on every transaction and really smart on the issues and had good connections in the federal government," Isaacson said. "He was a good resource as well as a working colleague. That was important back then." Isaacson said his thoughts are often reinforced today. "Every time I go out there I swell up with pride again," he said. About Lynn Kusy Served as executive director of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport since its inception in 1993. Graduated from Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill., with a Bachelor of Arts degree in geography with an emphasis on urban development. Served as a senior staff person and executive director of several regional planning commissions in Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio. Appointed executive director of Rickenbacker Port Authority in Columbus, Ohio, in 1980, responsible for the redevelopment of the former Rickenbacker Air Force Base. Became executive director of the Blytheville-Gosnell Regional Airport Authority, Blytheville, Ark., in 1991, responsible for the reuse of the former Eaker Air Force Base. Serves on the American Association of Airport Executives Policy Review Committee and the association's Airport Magazine Editorial Advisory Board; board member of the East Valley Partnership, the Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus Community Board, the East Valley Aviation and Aerospace Alliance and Arizona State University's Aeronautical Management Technology Advisory Board.