According to a recent count by the St. Louis Airport Authority, there were 155 parties waiting for a covered spot to store their aircraft at Spirit of St. Louis Airport (KSUS) in Chesterfield, Missouri. This delta between supply and demand is something that Alex Martin and his family experienced firsthand.
Several years ago, the Martins began considering the purchase of a larger family hauler, which wouldn’t fit in the T-hangar where they had long kept their Cessna 182. Their inability to find adequate hangar space was the inspiration for Spirit Sky Club, an in-development luxury 28 hangar facility at the northern portion of the field—near Runway 26R.
“Being around Spirit, we got to know the directors, John Bales [director of aviation] and Dave Schubert [deputy director of aviation], very well and that was the first place we looked for hangar space,” said Alex Martin. “We were talking to them one day, and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, the waitlist is a little bit long here. We’re happy to put you on it, but if you want to get that plane within the next couple of years, I would look elsewhere.’ We called up nearby airports and found the same problem at each of them. That was kind of the first green light that went up in our heads.”
Martin said he and his father, Douglas, both enjoy solving problems. They started diligently researching ways to meet the apparent demand back in January.
“We’re a family of entrepreneurs, and we started doing research on the hangar landscape across the country to really put it in perspective,” Martin said. “Is this just a St. Louis problem, or is this a national problem? There were two major things that stuck out. One is that plane ownership struck a chord over COVID. Private air travel is up anywhere from 10 to 20 percent relative to pre-pandemic levels. Then on the supply side, COVID backed up supply chains everywhere. Hangar development as well stopped during this time and has really yet to fully come back. These two signals, mixed with our personal experience of needing a hangar, were the catalyst for Spirit Sky Club.”
These box hangars will be quite a bit different from those at airports in the greater metro area.
“The model we’re really after here is more of a country club type of model—a community of enthusiasts around a certain hobby,” Martin said. “With how many aviators reside in St. Louis, you would think that there would be more of a natural community element at many hangars, but there’s not. With weekend events, charity galas, and world-class amenities, we aim to change that.
“This is built for the owner/operators. If you’re hiring a pilot, not passionate about aviation, or simply using your plane as just a line item on your company’s budget, this probably isn’t for you. It’s more for the people that really, really care about the community around aviation, being around other pilots, and enjoy talking about aviation. This whole development is designed by pilots, for pilots. We went after the development with a design first approach, accounting for things that are important to aviators.”
The Martins are joined in this development by the Alms, another father-son duo who are also residents of the area with long-standing roots in aviation. Kevin Alm is a business executive and his son Griffin is a recently minted instrument pilot working on his commercial certificate. Martin said that the foursome leaned on their own experiences as existing hangar tenants of the airport and were mindful of what others would want in new spaces. That included elements such as adequate and convenient electrical outlets, high-speed internet, insulation and heat, air conditioning, 24/7 security, remote-controlled tugs, and even a private bathroom (depending on the type selected).
There will be three hangar suite options available for lease— shared, standard , or fully customizable deluxe suites. Each box hangar is 62 feet wide by 56 feet deep but has varying door heights and amenity levels. Self-service fuel will be available on-site, as well as line services through a partner FBO. The group is expecting to break ground in January 2024, with the first phase of development sitting on roughly 7 acres of land.
Pat McLaughlin, a fellow entrepreneur, has also been an integral part of the development, according to Martin.
“Pat shares the same vision for us to make St. Louis, even more so Spirit, a general aviation hub in the Midwest throughout the coming decades,” Martin said. “He has been a great advocate for our project and is working here with us to plan a second phase, which would include things like aviation services and additional hangar space.”
McLaughlin explained that his company, Mistwood Aviation, an exclusively Cirrus service and training center, will have space in the tentative second phase. When Mistwood was founded in 2016, McLaughlin had hoped to build a new hangar facility at the airport. But doing so wasn’t financially viable for the fledgling firm, but he kept the thought in the back of his mind ever since.
“I got real serious [about wanting to build hangars again,] and I started talking to the airport director,” said McLaughlin. “He said, ‘By the way, there is another group that’s looking at doing this. But go ahead and put your project together and see what you can do, because I don’t know if they’re committed or not.’ About two weeks later, I walked into his office with my plan in hand and he goes, ‘These guys are going to move forward, and I’ll introduce you to them.’”
Mistwood Aviation will be a flagship tenant of Spirit Sky Club, where they will have an expanded showroom. This space will not only be a gathering point for potential airplane buyers, but it will also host the company’s aircraft used for pilot training.
“The other piece of it that I’m hoping to do is there’s a restaurant/brewery idea,” McLaughlin said. “I wouldn’t say that this idea is concrete, but it is more than 50 percent [likelihood of happening]. I’ve been to quite a few different places that I’m modeling this off. The closest one to us is Thaden Field in Bentonville [Arkansas (KVBT)], which is a beautiful facility. If I could draw it up, I would do it exactly like they have where they have the hangar with the clubhouse up top. They have areas for people to come in and see planes take off and land—in addition to the fact that there is a more private members-only space, and it’s all attached to a hangar, so you can use it as an event space.”
The interest in this new offering at the airport has been “phenomenal” thus far, according to Martin. Only four weeks after announcing the project to the public, he said that they had nearly pre-booked every available space in the first phase.
“The airport has been extremely helpful,” Martin said. “I like to think of them as a partner as well, just because they are as incentivized as we are to make this project a success. From their perspective, they recognize that this is a need and that this would increase the demand for their airport, increase the benefits that they can offer to the city, etc.
“They have been doing everything they can to incentivize us to go through with this project, to help us with the permitting of this project, all sorts of stuff. They’ve also been a great partner as we’ve been navigating the actual legalities with the city and the legalities with the FAA of doing this project.”
The St. Louis Airport Authority mirrored his enthusiasm for the development and on-field opportunities.
“Spirit of St. Louis Airport is a first-class, business-friendly airport that works closely with its tenants,” said John Bales, the authority’s director of aviation. “The airport will be celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2024 continues to grow and is perfectly situated in the prospering west St. Louis County. We are very excited to partner with the developer and welcome the investment. They are going to bring a very exciting and unique hangar complex.”