The group fighting to stave off the demise of Edmonton's City Centre Airport laid out a hopeful vision Thursday night for keeping the facility open.

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What to do with Edmonton's City Centre Airport has been the topic of fervent public debate for decades. ((CBC))

More than a year ago, Mayor Stephen Mandel challenged supporters to come up with a proposal for the airport as city councillors voted to shutter it in stages.

With the first of two runway closures slated for next week, Envision Edmonton is presenting its long-shot dream of what the space could become.

Architectural drawings feature a new airport terminal, an LRT station, a park-and-ride lot and a bus terminal.

"Basically, you're tying all the modes of transportation together," said Ed Schlemko, a pilot and Envision Edmonton director. "It's like Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Because the Yellowhead Trail is just by there, you can get here by truck, by car, by bus, by train or LRT."

Schlemko's group has collected 45,000 signatures on a petition to get the airport closure on the ballot for this fall's municipal elections. They need 33,000 more to force a vote.

'David and Goliath'

About 150 people attended Thursday night's presentation. Some said they support a plebiscite on the issue — it would be the third since 1992 — even if they themselves don't want the airport to remain open.

In 1992, voters narrowly chose to keep the airport running with passenger services. In 1995, a referendum opted to shunt all scheduled passenger flights to Edmonton International Airport, but not to shut down the downtown airfield.

"It is a David and Goliath, but we have the public on our side. We've done the polling," Schlemko said.

"The more we go, the more we have people who want to volunteer, want to help," said Dean Braithwaite, one of the volunteers trying to make the airport's future an election issue. "It feels like we have momentum on our side and we're picking up steam."

Advocates say the City Centre Airport, with its private and charter flights, is vital for the business community, as a hub to the north, and for medevac flights. About 4,000 medevac flights a year go through the facility.

Opponents want the 58 hectares of land developed into a transit-oriented community with housing for thousands of people, along with commercial and retail space and room for the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology to expand its campus westward.