The long-awaited new terminal and parking lot at John Wayne Airport is finished, and on Tuesday airport staff unveiled plans for a $50,000 celebration.

That didn’t sit well with Supervisor Shawn Nelson.

Nelson called it “a ridiculous illusion that people would be fired up about the terminal.” He said it made no sense to celebrate contractors who did what they were paid to do: build a parking lot and a terminal addition.

Nelson also questioned why half of the airport’s annual marketing budget is being used for such a purpose.

Supervisor John Moorlach, who represents the area where the airport is located, challenged Nelson, saying it was important to “commemorate an architectural creation.” He said the project was built at a premium price and the Orange County Business Council said it will generate $1 billion in economic activity.

Airport Director Alan Murphy added that local media coverage of the celebration would help officials inform travelers about the new food options at the airport.

Nelson was not impressed. “I can’t imagine someone selecting an airport based on parking or food,” he said.

Murphy and Moorlach also said they are looking for sponsors for the event, so it’s possible there won’t be any out-of-pocket expenses.

“If you’re going to have sponsors, why do we need to allocate $50,000,” Nelson said.

Murphy and Moorlach said the authorization would allow them to search for sponsors.

That prompted Supervisor Pat Bates to offer a compromise resolution that would authorize the search for sponsors but cap spending from the marketing budget at $25,000.

Chairman Bill Campbell, mentioning the press coverage, noted that, “I feel we’re hamstringing the director of the airport to not have a budget to get this done.”

That irritated Nelson. “We need to be realistic,” he said. “We’ve all been to these openings. One is a parking lot. We don’t need a tent and speakers for a parking lot. Who would want to have a presentation for the parking lot?”

“It’s an impressive parking structure,” Moorlach replied. “There’s got to be some balance somewhere. You have to have to some pomp and circumstance.”

Ultimately, supervisors split on Bates’ compromise motion with Nelson and Supervisor Janet Nguyen voting against it.

Murphy will return in early September with an update on the search for sponsors.


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