With thorny hangar issue settled, county takes aim at Brooksville airport development

Published August 22 2018
Updated August 22 2018

BROOKSVILLE — A batch of hangars at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport has a date with a bulldozer, frustrating the efforts of two local businessmen, but possibly making way for millions of dollars in new investments and hundreds of new jobs.

Hernando County commissioners told county administrator Len Sossamon last week to follow the airport’s 2016 master plan, which called for razing the hangars.

The county will demolish three of four enclosed hangars and one open-shade hangar to make way for a 20,000- to 35,000-square-foot airplane maintenance and repair building. That facility has been on the county’s wish list for years.

One hangar will remain as a storage building for county supplies on the airport.

Sossamon said that if the county didn’t demolish the hangars, built 50 years ago and at the end of their usefulness, it could risk losing state grant the county received, which helped pay for new hangars. More importantly, it could make the county less attractive for future grants.

New grant money could pay for roads and other infrastructure on the west side of the airport, opening up the area for industrial development. The original airport industrial park is nearly full.

The county is courting companies that could bring $45 million or more in private investment to the airport, county staffers told commissioners.

That puts a different spin on the debate about old hangars, Sossamon said.

"The future of this airport was riding on that decision,’’ he told the Tampa Bay Times.

Commissioners agreed to demolish the hangars after the latest plea by an existing airport tenant who made another pitch last week to buy and operate the structures.

Earlier this summer, Robert Rey of Jet Concepts made an unsolicited offer of $175,000 to operate two of the hangars, saying there was a demand for airplane storage. John Petrick of American Aviation made a $50,000 offer just before Rey made his.

The two businesses have been grappling for the right to operate the buildings, prompting much of the controversy.

Petrick wrote the county a check for $50,000 in 2016 and moved into the hangars before receiving approval from the County Commission. Rey argued the commission was showing favoritism.

Rey told commissioners earlier this month that the back and forth on the hangars — allowing bids, then not allowing bids, then allowing them again — was frustrating. He said state officials told him the county could change its master plan, allowing the hangars to stay.

But Sossamon already had sent letters to Rey and Petrick saying the hangars were set for demolition. The letter came after a July 20 meeting with county and airport officials, and a representative of the Florida Department of Transportation, which provided the grant for new hangars.

"The conclusion drawn from our meeting with FDOT is that to accept the offer(s) as proposed, which does not comply with the approved airport’s master plan, would potentially cost Hernando County future funding opportunities,’’ Sossamon wrote.

Sossamon needed the commission’s support for his decision, which he got last week.

DOT officials also said that if the county follows its master plan, it may get another $600,000 in grant money to demolish the old hangars and refurbish the remaining hangar for county storage.

Commission Chairman Steve Champion said the whole process would have been easy and done a long time ago, if the county hadn’t offered Petrick the lease for the hangars.

Keeping Hernando County attractive for grant funders is a key issue for Sossamon, who also serves as the county’s economic development director. The county’s senior planner Michelle Miller explained the details to commissioners.

In June, the county approved an agreement with the DOT for a $625,000 grant to extend Technology and Telcom drives and provide infrastructure in the Corporate Airpark Phase III at the airport. The county would pay its share through impact fees and county utility connection fees.

The county also could use that funding to leverage a federal grant through the Economic Development Administration. If awarded, the grant would fund improvements on Aerial Way and Corporate Boulevard. County officials hope by know by the end of the year whether they will receive the funding.

Combining the county’s $959,323 match and $1.756 million federal grant, the project would total $3.34 million.

The county isn’t stopping there.

Officials also hope to snag a $8.1 million grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which requires no local match, for improvements to the Corporate Boulevard and Anderson Snow Road intersection and Aerial Way.

Miller showed a map with dots depicting new businesses the county is trying to lure to the industrial park. A couple of them already have signed.

One, Frigitek, is building a 200,000-square-foot, cold-storage facility. It is expected to appear before the County Commission with a contract in hand next month, Sossamon said.

Another, Barrette Outdoor Living, is building a $6.5 million, 100,000-square-foot distribution center. The hope is for a March opening, he said.

Other potential businesses with code names like Project Buffalo, Project Dixie and Project Gold are outlined on the map provided for commissioners. Private investment in the area could top $45 million, bring 237 new jobs and help the county retain another 270 jobs, staffers said.

Sossamon told the Times that number was conservative. Investment could top $100 million and bring 100 more jobs, he said, if a few key prospects sign with Hernando.

Sossamon calls the new development area the airport expansion zone. Getting roads, water and sewer lines, and other infrastructure in place to snag businesses is Sossamon’s highest priority.

"The airport expansion zone is the future of the airport,’’ he said. "It’s going to be where the airport grows in the future for industries and jobs.’’

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

>>>Previous coverage:> Hernando commissioners set to sort out latest airport controversy>>

>>>Previous coverage:> Surprise cancellation of bids raises questions about status of hangars at airport>>

>>>Previous coverage:> Questions raised over contract with American Aviation at Hernando airport>>