Good time to improve Hernando airport, director says

The Economic Development Office at the Hernando County Airport, the office site, also, for the director of the airport.

RON THOMPSON | Times

The Economic Development Office at the Hernando County Airport, the office site, also, for the director of the airport.

Don Silvernell would love to see some of the federal stimulus money land at the Hernando County Airport. But even if it never comes, he's got big plans for improvements in 2009.

The airport director knows that the current sluggish economic conditions offer opportunities to beef up infrastructure at a bargain price.

Making the airport attractive is a keystone strategy in the county's efforts to lure new businesses and industries. Much of the business growth in recent years has been centered at the airport's industrial parks.

The new airport office off Spring Hill Drive was just completed a couple of months ago, and Silvernell and county business development director Mike McHugh have moved in. McHugh and his staff had been renting space in downtown Brooksville for the last few years.

During 2009, Silvernell said, the airport will add a new hangar that could house as many as 14 aircraft, and a corporate hangar could also be on the project list.

Also ahead is a large maintenance project to rehabilitate the roads in the original Airport Industrial Park, built in the 1980s. The roads will be widened a bit and the corners reworked to allow a larger turning radius for big vehicles.

Design work has been completed on the new industrial and business park spaces planned for the southwest portion of the airport property.

"Hopefully we'll see some funding'' through the stimulus package, Silvernell said. "It's set to go.''

There are approximately 175 acres in the area and 59 lots ranging from 1 1/2 to 2 acres in size. For potential tenants who need more space, the design allows for combining lots.

In the older industrial areas, the lots were slightly bigger. Silvernell said some potential businesses wanted to look at a smaller size, so that's why the new sites will be smaller.

In the existing industrial areas, Silvernell said, there are 95 industrial and commercial leases.

Some runway and taxiway maintenance is also in the airport plan for the coming year.

While it didn't make the priority list the county staff has prepared for stimulus money, a control tower planned at the airport would create good-paying jobs down the road, Silvernell said. The planning for the tower is still ongoing, though he said he did not expect to see that project happen this year.

"Right now is the time to do these infrastructure projects because the cost has gone way down,'' he said.

Silvernell pointed to recent road projects on the airport property that came in at $2.8 million when the estimate for the work had been $4.8 million, and a drainage project he thought would cost about $1 million that was completed for $660,000.

The Hernando County Airport is also getting a second fixed-base operator. The County Commission earlier this month approved a lease with Brooksville Air Center Inc., which will build its own facility on 11 acres. Part of the deal is that the business will pay to have water, sewer and a road built to the site, and in return get a break in its lease payment for a few years.

By extending the utilities and roadway, the business will be opening up more space for future businesses, Silvernell told commissioners. He noted that Brooksville Air Center will bring more competition to the airport. The business will provide full fixed-base operator services, including maintenance, fuel and pilot services.

It will also bring more traffic. According to Silvernell, the company has five jets in the Southeast and as many as a dozen in the rest of the country that may come into Hernando.

American Aviation, the other fixed-base operator, has been at the airport since the early 1970s.

Silvernell said he knows that the current economic conditions are making it tough, but he is confident that eventually the situation will improve. In the meantime, he said, he needs to keep the airport moving ahead.

"Yeah, it's bad and it's going to be bad for a while,'' he said. "But if I sit on my hands, it's going to cost us more money.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Good time to improve Hernando airport, director says 02/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 21, 2009 1:19pm]

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