Hernando County lets two businesses break airport leases

BROOKSVILLE — The economic hard times are even hurting business at Hernando County's airport and industrial park, and this week, two struggling companies asked the County Commission for help.

After listening to the details of their circumstances, commissioners agreed to solutions that will help both the companies and the county.

Portal Aviation LLC has planned for years to use a 9-acre parcel on Spring Hill Drive for a hotel and other businesses, but the owners were not able to line up financing for the project.

Duratek Precast Technologies Inc. planned offices and a manufacturing plant to build concrete walls for home construction, but the collapse of the real estate market hamstrung their efforts.

Paresh Desai, president of Portal Aviation, had an option on the Spring Hill Drive airport site for several years, airport director Don Silvernell told commissioners this week.

The firm began design work, obtained its permits through the Southwest Florida Water Management District and moved gopher tortoises. Then, in 2007, representatives of the hotel told Desai that he needed to get a lease on the property, so he signed a lease with the airport.

The cost of the annual lease and maintenance ran $65,171, far more than the annual option cost of $4,500.

Work on the project design continued, but when Desai went back to the bank that had originally agreed to finance the project, the market had changed and financing was no longer available, Silvernell said.

Desai, who had by that time already made more than $80,000 in lease payments to the airport, asked Silvernell if he could get out of the lease. After extensive discussion, the Hernando County Aviation Authority recommended instead dropping the cost of the lease from $65,171 to $14,400 until August 2011.

Desai this week asked commissioners if he could get out of the lease and instead have an option on the site again.

Commissioner Dave Russell asked Silvernell why the authority members preferred a continuance of his lease rather than the option.

"We have a lease on the property,'' Silvernell said. "They felt that the airport for the long term is better off having the lease and reducing the payment.''

Silvernell said that if another interested developer comes along while Portal has the option, Portal will have 60 days to sign a lease or lose the option.

Russell pointed out that the Aviation Authority members are responsible for looking after the best interests of the airport but the commission must consider other things, such as the overall benefit to the county.

He made a motion to allow Portal to trade in the lease for an option instead. Commissioners agreed unanimously.

In the second case, Duratek had maintained a ground lease at the rail park at the airport since 2003 beginning with 4.36 acres for its corporate office. With plans in hand to build a 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility for concrete wall panels, in April 2007, the company leased another 9.43 adjacent acres.

Concrete walls in Florida "seemed like a good idea,'' Silvernell noted.

Later, the firm announced plans to take the manufacturing piece to Ocala but abandoned that idea when the housing market buckled.

"We've gone full circle with this one,'' business development director Michael McHugh told commissioners.

After discussions with Hernando officials, Duratek decided to keep its office operation at the airport with its 17 corporate office employees and sell the site in Ocala, McHugh said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to allow Duratek out of its lease on the larger site, which opens those three parcels with rail access to any other interested parties. The size and location, McHugh said, made the property highly marketable.

Duratek officials have also told McHugh they are interested in talking with him about what Hernando County has to offer when they take their business venture in a new direction.

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

Hernando County lets two businesses break airport leases 02/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2010 8:18pm]

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