Organizer of aviation event planned for Hernando airport seeks community's help

BROOKSVILLE — For several months, local resident David Hilton has been laying out his vision for a "Wings, Wheels and Water Celebration" to the Hernando County Aviation Authority.

On Thursday, he showed authority members his latest schematic for the layout of the event, which he hopes to put on in November. Then he explained that he has gone as far with the planning as he can alone and now hopes to get the community's help.

He plans to hold a community meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport office.

Hilton's plan calls for an airplane fly-in along with a boat and car show on the airport property. Recreational vehicles and motorcycles also would be welcome. Some takeoff, landing and other airplane competitions are also contemplated at the event, which would run from a Thursday through Sunday.

Proceeds would go toward aviation training.

In previous presentations to the authority, Hilton described how he had hoped the Experimental Airplane Association, of which he is a member, would be the main sponsor of the event, but that group bowed out because it didn't sponsor events with simulated "bomb drops,'' in which bags of powder are dropped at targets.

On Thursday, Hilton said he did not have a sponsor yet, but has been talking to a number of people.

He described a layout that could be condensed, depending on how many participants the first event attracts. Hilton's plan would include parking for 700 cars and additional spaces for handicapped parking and motorcycles. The space could accommodate more if necessary. More than 90 vendor booths are also shown in the plan.

Hilton said the entry fee he's contemplating would be $20 per car or $5 per motorcycle per day. Fly-in aircraft would also be charged $20 a day and would not be charged additionally if they camp overnight. Automobile camping would pay $20 per day or $50 for all four days.

Hilton said some people have told him he is trying to do too much in too short a time. He said that's why he hopes the community will rally around his plan.

"We're open to suggestions at this point,'' he said.

In addition to talking to representatives of Monster Transmission in Brooksville about sponsorship of the car show, Hilton said he hopes for some help from the school district since his focus is on aviation training. But he said he has yet to hear back from anyone with the district.

Since Hilton's last presentation to the authority, airport manager Don Silvernell has spoken to him about financial troubles he experienced in the late 1980s.

Hilton bought the Sea Turtle Marina in Hudson for $300,000 in 1986, then stopped making payments in 1988.

Newspaper reports at the time stated that Hilton was hit with a lien in early June 1988 for $150,000 in delinquent gasoline taxes, penalties and interest. Two days later, the marina burned to the ground in a suspicious fire.

An insurance adjuster interviewed at the scene said that Hilton's insurance would cover just $110,000.

A week later, Hilton was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay restitution after he was charged with writing a worthless check to a Georgia boat company for $33,406 in February 1987.

There were other financial problems at the time, including liens from the Internal Revenue Service and the state Division of Unemployment Compensation.

Ultimately, the marina landed in foreclosure, and Hilton and his wife, Denise, filed for bankruptcy.

On Thursday, Hilton called those financial troubles his "dirty laundry" and noted that the problems were in the distant past. He blamed the initial bad check charge on a customer who didn't pay him, and then he didn't have sufficient funds for a check he wrote. He also acknowledged he did not have enough insurance.

Hilton noted that he had made restitution on the check and that no one was ever charged with setting the fire at the marina.

He said that if someone else wanted to step in and take over the event at the airport, he would accept that.

"I just had the idea, and I built the box,'' he said.

Aviation authority member Dennis Wilfong said he wasn't concerned about Hilton's past.

"Bygones are bygones,'' Wilfong said. "That doesn't interest me.''

Hilton agreed to return to the next Aviation Authority meeting in March to report on the outcome of his Feb. 20 meeting.

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

Organizer of aviation event planned for Hernando airport seeks community's help 02/07/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013 8:12pm]

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