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Hernando commission chairman offers compromise on airport name

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Commission Chairman Dave Russell says he's ready to compromise on the contentious issue of a new name for Hernando's airport.

A day after standing firm on the initial name change, and risking a costly legal battle with Tampa International Airport, Russell said Friday he would be willing to rename the Hernando facility — for many years known simply as the Hernando County Airport — the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, rather than the Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport.

He hopes the addition of the word "bay" will be enough to resolve the issue. But that remained unclear Friday evening.

On Thursday, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority voted to spend up to $400,000 to fight Hernando's name change, claiming the use of the words "Tampa airport" would be an attack on Tampa International's brand and a violation of the "Tampa Airport" federal trademark owned by the Hillsborough authority.

The authority, which oversees Tampa International, filed suit in federal court against Hernando County in early November.

Russell said he spent Friday talking to stakeholders about the legal fight, including Hernando County Aviation Authority chairman Gary Schraut, county Administrator Len Sossamon, the county attorney's office and business development manager Michael McHugh, who is in charge of the airport's rebranding efforts.

He also reached out to officials at the Tampa Bay Partnership, noting that no one can argue that Brooksville is not part of the Tampa Bay region. Hernando County also belongs to the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.

Russell said he also had placed a call to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a member of the Hillsborough Aviation Authority board, to ask his opinion. During Thursday's meeting, when the board voted unanimously to spend up to $400,000 to cover trial costs, Buckhorn said of the pending litigation: "It's just ridiculous. I think it's unfortunate we have to do this. But I would agree that we have to protect our brand.''

Russell said he had not heard back from the mayor by late Friday. Tampa International officials did not return repeated calls and emails from the Times seeking comment.

Russell hopes his compromise offer will head off a courtroom confrontation.

"I can't imagine where the Tampa airport is going to lay claim to the entire Tampa Bay region,'' he said. "I think this is a reasonable compromise, and we're going to reach out to them.''

Russell said he would run the idea past Hernando County commissioners during their meeting Tuesday, but he felt confident they would be fine with the compromise because they had even talked about adding "bay" to the name in October.

Hernando's airport needs to be able to take advantage of the Tampa Bay brand, Russell said. He said he hopes Hillsborough officials will consider the compromise when the two sides meet with a mediator next week.

"We have better things to do with our time and our money," Russell said, "than bashing each other over names."

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

Hernando commission chairman offers compromise on airport name 01/11/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 8:24pm]
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