Montauk Airport Is on the Market

No interest in public purchase, but pilots may want to buy it themselves
The privately owned Montauk Airport could be developed with six house lots. Pilots and county and state officials would like it to remain an airport. Janis Hewitt

Local pilots are baffled by recent full-page ads offering the Montauk Airport as a parcel for sale. Collectively it appears they are against it, and some of them are considering pooling their resources to buy it. But not for the $18.5 million that it is listed for, an amount they said just doesn’t make sense.

Peter Lowenstein, the president of the Montauk Pilot’s Association, which has 25 members, said that he is involved with a group that might be willing to buy the airport so that the hamlet doesn’t lose its only airstrip.

“Every single pilot would be extremely unhappy if there is not an airport,” he said, adding that it is “reasonably used,” especially in summer.

Paul Brennan of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate, who holds the listing, agrees with Mr. Lowenstein that it would be a shame for the hamlet to lose the airport. He said Monday that he has contacted several government officials to see if a partnership could be arranged between town, county, and state entities to buy it, possibly with community preservation fund money, but to no avail.

“Government doesn’t seem to want to be involved. Wilkinson doesn’t want another headache,” he said, referring to East Hampton Town’s supervisor. “What if there is a hurricane and Napeague gets washed out or an evacuation? I don’t think people are thinking down the road,” he said.

This is not the first time there has been talk of a public purchase of the airstrip. In 1961, negotiations were underway for the sale of the airport and its incorporation into a proposed Suffolk County Airport Authority. The Federal Aviation Administration even made $250,000 available to the county to buy the airport the following year, but neither the sale nor the county airport authority came to pass.

Mr. Brennan said this week that a buyer could subdivide the 37-acre airport into six lots (that would probably be reduced to four as it progressed) and put a housing development on the land.

The airport is owned by eight stockholders who have asked not to be named, Mr. Brennan said. “They really don’t want people asking them why they’re selling the airport.”

One of the shareholders is the Duryea family of Montauk, which has had a hand in the airport since its construction in the late 1950s. In 1957 Montauk Airstrip Incorporated, headed by Perry B. Duryea Jr., bought the airport tract off East Lake Drive from the Montauk Beach Company. Mr. Duryea, a pilot in World War II, was speaker of the New York State Assembly.

The airport first opened for light planes in February 1958 and opened fully that spring. At the time a “portel” was planned that would have included a structure with 15 motel-type apartments, a 30-slip marina, and a Hertz rental car service, none of which panned out.

Mr. Duryea’s son, Perry (Chip) Duryea III, did not return a call for comment this week.

Mr. Brennan has held the listing for a month now, and tried to work with government officials before making it public just last week. The airport is surrounded by 1,000 acres of county parkland, including the camping area at Gin Beach.

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, a Montauk resident, said on Tuesday that the Montauk Airport is still limited by the stipulations of a Federal Aviation Association grant that was issued for runway improvements in 1996, which prohibits any changes for another 10 years.

The county’s finances right now would not allow for purchase of the airport, but, he said, portions of the surrounding property could be bought with money from the town’s preservation fund, and other portions might eventually be purchased through the county’s land fund program.

He wondered if East Hampton Town would even want two airports. “It doesn’t seem that they like the airport they have,” he said. East Hampton Airport, which is owned by the town, has been the subject of ongoing litigation over one thing or another for years.

He, too, said that without an airstrip in the hamlet, future evacuations in case of natural disasters could be jeopardized. “I think it would be a terrible loss for Montauk. We have to consider the options. In Montauk people will fight losing the airport,” he said, later adding, “It would be bad. That would be something I’d really not like to see. What if medical supplies had to be delivered to Montauk? Without an airport it would be hard.”

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele concurred, but said that the state would not get involved with a possible purchase. He said he has been approached by a group of users interested in buying the property. “People have expressed an interest. There are those who want to see an airport remain. They’re going to have to step up to the plate,” he said, crediting Mr. Brennan for working behind the scenes to find an alternative to residential development.

Mr. Brennan hopes the pilots do manage to see the airport remain. “I think it would be a shame for a Hilton to go in there,” he said.

With Research by Leah Steans-Gail