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Hernando County Aviation Authority explores buying Brooksville Air Center

BROOKSVILLE — When the Brooksville Air Center signed its lease with the Hernando County Airport in 2009, county officials were upbeat about having a second fixed-base operator for air traffic and excited that it was another sign of growth at the airport.

But the business didn't take off.

A new manager was brought in, the airport found itself mired in operational issues with the manager, and in May of this year airport director Don Silvernell terminated the company's fixed-base operator status and fuel sales privileges.

While the management entity, Jet Concepts, has challenged that ruling, the county now faces a question of what to do about the Brooksville Air Center facilities that were built on an 11-acre tract owned by the county.

One option is to acquire the 4,000-square-foot office building, the 21,000-square-foot hangar and associated facilities. It's an option that the Hernando County Aviation Authority will discuss when it conducts a special meeting at the airport office at 3 p.m. Thursday.

BankAtlantic, which holds the mortgage on the facilities, recently obtained a foreclosure judgment on the property. Last week, the bank offered it for sale by auction. But no one came forward with the $1.5 million minimum bid, said county Commissioner Dave Russell, the commission's liaison to the airport.

Officials from the bank, visiting the site after the failed auction, told the airport staff that Jet Concepts was removing its equipment from the property sometime over the weekend.

The facility offers a challenge to a buyer, explained Gary Schraut, chairman of the Aviation Authority. That's because it has both its original mortgage and a lien from a $1.9 million loan through the federal Small Business Administration.

All of that needs to be discussed in a public meeting by the Aviation Authority, Schraut said. And the authority needs the chance to talk about the pros and cons of such a move. While the authority can explore the idea and have its staff look at options, it ultimately will be up to the County Commission to decide whether to acquire the facility.

The airport likely has the means to acquire the buildings with a reserve of approximately $1.8 million and an annual cash flow between $500,000 and $700,000, Russell said, noting that the real question is whether it would benefit the county.

Schraut said he wants to see the facility become a productive enterprise, no matter what kind of business that might be.

Since the county owns the land, if it also controlled the facility, that would offer the county a chance to seek a new tenant.

"It would definitely give our marketing folks a nice property to market,'' Silvernell said.

During a recent trade show in Orlando, he said, he spoke with some businesses that might have an interest in the site for a variety of uses — even as headquarters for a fixed-base operator.

"We really think that we can do a better job of moving it more quickly if we were to take control of it,'' Silvernell said.

That would not be an unusual situation because the airport already owns many of the hangars and other facilities there that help generate revenue.

If the county got a new tenant for the facility, it would also be beneficial to the airport's bottom line because the airport collects rent, and the rent for a new tenant would be higher because the Brooksville Air Center received a discount for helping to pay for the infrastructure to prepare the site, Schraut said.

And the biggest benefit if a new business moved in, he said: "We would have jobs down there.''

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

Hernando County Aviation Authority explores buying Brooksville Air Center 11/22/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 22, 2012 7:21pm]

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