When Concord initially planned to build an airport, the news was met with mixed reactions, but many were against the project.
Former Concord Mayor Scott Padgett described it as the most controversial topic in Cabarrus County at the time, for more than a decade, from the mid-1980s into the 1990s.
“This area, a lot of people didn’t want it because they feared what the airport would do to their community — noise, traffic, property value and everything else,” Padgett said. “I understand their fears, but what they understand now is that if we didn’t have an airport, we’d have thousands of houses out here, which would have been a bigger issue.”
Officials broke ground on the airport in 1992, and then opened the doors in November 1994.
Padgett, who served 16 years as mayor and six more on the City Council, was just one strong, influential voice that ignited and continued the growth of Concord Regional Airport.
After 25 years, the airport is continuing its expansion.
The city celebrated the airport with a special ceremony Monday for its 25th anniversary. The name of the airport now is officially Concord-Padgett Regional Airport, after the former longtime mayor, and the city is working to place new signs along Interstate 85.
The airport unveiled a new logo, a new symbol of the airport, on Aviation Drive in Concord.
On Monday, city and airport leaders talked about the history of the airport, honored those who made it happen and shared their excitement for the future.
A video tribute highlighted stories of “determination, courage, resilience and economic impact that the airport has had over the past 25 years and the journeys that are yet to come.”
Padgett, who was Concord’s mayor from 2001 to 2017 and was on the City Council from 1995 to 2001, recognized those “unsung heroes” who gave the airport life, even when many residents were against it.
“One of my main goals has been to recognize unsung heroes, and there are a lot of them here today, and some of them are unfortunately deceased,” Padgett said. “I spent several weeks, since I knew we were going to have the anniversary, to give credit to folks who deserve it.”
The airport was originally planned to be built in Gastonia, but city leaders blinked, and for some political reason, didn’t want the airport anymore.
Concord leaders stepped in, had a feasibility study done and started the process of bringing the airport to the city.
Padgett said several people on the City Council were instrumental, including Jim Dorton, Frank Dush, Alfred Brown and Jim Fisher.
“They had courage and weren’t afraid to take a chance,” Padgett said. “They knew how to deal with controversy and do the right thing.”
In 25 years, more than $85 million has been invested in facilities at the 750-acre airport. The airport has many hangars for commercial and private use, is a home for NASCAR teams and three flight schools, has a tax value between $139 million to $150 million and has 180 airplanes based at the airport.
The airport introduced commercial flights through Allegiant Airlines in 2013, and it has continued to grow.
In its first year flying commercial, the airport had 613 passengers. This year, the airport is projected to have 190,000 passengers.
It just added its seventh destination last week, to West Palm Beach, Florida. There are six flights that go to Florida and another that lands in New Orleans.
“City Council and city manager leaders, they made those investments,” said city of Concord Aviation Director Dirk Vanderleest. “It was a risk on everybody’s part. One of the biggest risks was getting Allegiant Airlines here. This has been a huge investment.
“The airline is out to make money. If they don’t make money, they pull out of markets. This has been a very good market for them. It’s great access to other locations within Florida.”
In the future, Concord-Padgett Regional Airport has funds to build more hangars and add more destinations.
“I think there is going to be a lot of growth from commercial, along with adding more hangars so we can increase our general aviation programs here,” Concord Mayor Bill Dusch said.