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Williams Air Force Base, Arizona Redevelopment Profile

Once home to a busy Air Force pilot training base, the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport now employs more than 4,000 personnel and hosts 10,000 college students.

Program:

Downsizing

Military Service:

Air Force

Williams Air Force Base Today

The area that once encompassed the Williams Air Force Base (AFB) now boasts more than 4,000 new jobs (representing 549 percent of civilian jobs lost), is home to nearly 10,000 college students, and creates an economic impact of over $1.3 billion annually. Eventually, the Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport, and the college campuses of Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus and Chandler Gilbert Community College are expected to employ 17,000 people and serve more than 20,000 students. Over 30 aerospace firms are located on the airport property with various companies partnering with the colleges to provide job training and career development opportunities. Over 1.7 million passengers traveled through Gateway Airport in 2019.

Background

Williams AFB located outside of Phoenix, Arizona, began operating as a flight training school in 1941. The base trained pilots for twin and single engine crafts, and eventually four-engine B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. The base also conducted flexible gunnery training and radar observer training.

The 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended the closure of Williams AFB, resulting in the loss of 728 civilian positions in 1993.

After the 1991 announcement, the Governor of Arizona quickly appointed the Williams AFB Economic Reuse Planning Advisory Committee. The committee was comprised of representatives from all neighboring towns and cities, Maricopa County, the State of Arizona, business leaders and citizens. Through a public process, the committee developed the Williams Economic Reuse Plan, which outlined how the base would be redeveloped. It was approved in 1992. The plan called for creating an educational consortium, and a commercial airport to relieve some of the high-volume traffic at the nearby Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

For the Williams Gateway Airport Local Redevelopment Authority, “demand-based” planning has been its key to success. Recognizing the realities of year-to-year fluctuations in activity, planning “horizons” were established as levels of aviation activity that, when reached, trigger airport management to consider carrying out the next step in the Master Plan program. By developing the airport to meet aviation demand as indicators are reached, instead of at set targets in time, the airport is able to meet the operational demands of its users in a cost-efficient and well-planned manner. This program also provides the Airport Authority the flexibility to accelerate or delay project implementation based on actual need or unanticipated changes in needs or demand.

Updated October 2020