BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's airport has a new name and a more obvious connection to the nearby metropolitan area.
The County Commission Tuesday unanimously approved Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport as the new name and the starting point for the county's rebranding of the airport and the associated industrial, corporate and rail parks.
The renaming first came to the commission in July but the commissioners delayed action after hearing that there might be a legal challenge from the Hillsborough Aviation Authority. The delay was to allow officials from the agency to meet with the county but that meeting didn't happen until last week.
Afterward, Gigi Garber Rechel, general counsel for the Hillsborough authority sent the county a letter stating that the Hillsborough Aviation Authority "has common law legal rights to the name 'Tampa Airport.' We believe including those words in the title of a Hernando County airport will cause confusion for the traveling public, pilots, businesses and tenants.''
Thinking that the Hernando facility can be confused with Tampa International Airport is "absurd,'' Hernando county attorney Garth Coller told commissioners.
"You can't trademark a place name,'' he told them, saying the county would be in a good legal position if the authority decides to challenge the name.
Commissioners struggled with several ideas for the new airport name, including considering the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport to better reflect the region. But Chairman Wayne Dukes, who said he didn't have a preference in the name, suggested going with the staffers' first choice because they were the ones who consulted with experts and used focus groups to reach a consensus on the name.
County business development manager Michael McHugh said the staff preferred Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport. He said pilots and business people prefer things concise and that Tampa Bay was a regional designation and seen as redundant with the word "regional.''
Commissioners ultimately agreed with a unanimous vote.
After the vote, Hillsborough authority spokeswoman Janet Zink said, "We are evaluating our options.''
McHugh sold the renaming as the first step in rebranding the airport. The new control tower just opened for operations there last week. Several weeks ago there was an announcement attended by Gov. Rick Scott of the new 300,000 square foot manufacturing facility planned by airport tenant Accuform Signs.
He explained to commissioners the detailed process followed over the last few months to find a new name. The "Brooksville" place name was important because it had been in past names of the airport and demonstrates pride in the city. It also fits with the airport's identifier "BKV,'' McHugh said.
Connecting the facility with Tampa was important because everyone uses Tampa as a reference point when they describe where Hernando County is located, it is a highly recognizable name and the Tampa place name makes a very favorable impression with businesses, he explained.
The rebranding was a key item in the county's approved economic development plan, he said.
Commissioner John Druzbick said the new name and the branding will be "a phenomenal help to our economic development team.''
Former county aviation authority chairman Robert Morris, who also represents American Aviation, said he and the business strongly supported the name change. He noted that the Hillsborough authority was objecting to the name change even though it recently took a similar action — renaming Vandenberg Airport the Tampa Executive Airport.
He said he believes Hillsborough officials "recognize the business opportunity this will bring to Hernando County'' with an airport second only to TIA in the region in size.
"We have the business opportunity they are no longer able to provide. That's why they're opposed to it,'' Morris said.
"This day is going to go down in history,'' said current Hernando County Aviation Authority Chairman Gary Schraut.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.