By Donald Wittkowski
A private jet landed at Ocean City Municipal Airport last summer carrying a VIP passenger, who, after stepping off the aircraft, was whisked away in a limo to a restaurant in Cape May.
The passenger was none other than pop superstar Taylor Swift, according to John Concannon, whose house at 27th Street and Haven Avenue is across the road from the airport.
That someone of Swift’s uber-celebrity stature would fly into Ocean City shows just how important the airport can be in attracting visitors to town, Concannon said.
“There’s no reason not to come here,” he said in an interview Sunday at the airport.
Recognizing the airport’s importance as well, the city is discussing tentative plans to give the facility a facelift that would make it much more attractive.
Mayor Jay Gillian’s five-year capital plan, approved by City Council on Feb. 8, proposes spending $2.3 million in 2020 to replace the tiny airport building that currently doubles as the airport’s operations center and a quaint diner.
“The city definitely recognizes the need for improvements there. But at this point, there’s not much more detail to share. It’s still a few years out, and we’re still working on a vision for how much exactly we can accomplish there within the budget plan,” city spokesman Doug Bergen said of the airport project.
Frank Donato, the city’s chief financial officer, told Council during a presentation on the capital plan that the new airport building would house the operations center, the diner and a pro shop for the municipal golf course next door to the airport.
The capital plan is considered a sweeping blueprint for city projects that may be built in the future. Although it proposes spending $2.3 million for the airport in 2020, the money is not committed for the project and would have to be approved by Council later on.
More immediately, the capital plan calls for spending about $135,000 in 2018 for improvements to airport’s fuel facilities, known as the fuel farm.
“They need to improve the fuel farm,” said Richard Flinn, a pilot who lives in West Chester, Pa., and has used the airport. “You wouldn’t have to wait for a fuel truck to pull up. It would be self-service for your plane.”
As a pilot, Flinn is even more excited about the possibility of the city adding a new building that would serve as the airport’s centerpiece.
“It would be better if they made it a little bigger,” he said. “We need this place to be updated, for sure.”
Flinn was at the airport’s diner Sunday afternoon sharing lunch with Concannon and another friend, Jim McKeon, of Malvern, Pa.
It was after the three friends had lunch that Concannon told the story about Taylor Swift landing at the airport last summer. Concannon insisted the story was true.
Swift has well-known connections to the Jersey Shore. It has been reported by the media that her parents owned a summer home in Stone Harbor when Swift was growing up.
Built in 1935, the modest, bayside airport handles mostly single-engine planes flown by ordinary pilots. But its nearly 3,000-foot runway is long enough to accommodate private jets, perhaps some even carrying VIPs such as Taylor Swift.
“You’ll see some fancy jets,” Concannon said.
These days, the airport’s claim to fame is that it is the only one in New Jersey located on a barrier island. Its location along Bay Avenue puts it only blocks from Ocean City’s beaches. It is not uncommon in summer to see people get out of their planes holding beach chairs and umbrellas.
On Sunday afternoon, a small plane was the only aircraft occupying the tarmac. But during summer, the airport comes alive with planes carrying vacationers and other visitors to town. It also serves as the headquarters for the city’s annual air festival and airshow in September, two events that draw thousands of spectators.
While the airport’s operations may be quiet at this time of year, the diner is bustling with activity. A nearly overflow crowd packed the cozy restaurant for lunch Sunday.
An awning inscribed with the words “OC Airport Diner” greets customers entering the building from the parking lot side.
Two of the diner’s regular customers, Carol Shelly and Paul Wysong, a married couple who live in Ocean City, were excited to hear that the restaurant may be upgraded as part of the airport’s proposed $2.3 million makeover.
“I’d like it as long as it keeps its coziness. Don’t make it too big,” Shelly said of the diner.
Shelly and Wysong have a house at 30th Street and Haven Avenue, close to the airport. They said they eat at the diner a couple times a month.
“I like the staff. They are real friendly,” Shelly said. “I think the food is great, too. We also like the atmosphere. The fact that the diner is connected to the airport is very cool.”
Wysong, while agreeing with all the points made by his wife, also noted that the diner’s location close to their home makes it convenient for them.
“It’s better than having to go downtown to eat, especially in the summertime,” he said.