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Airport soars; sprawling industrial parks chug along

Stagnation and deterioration cause a bit of concern, but a marketing push is afoot and officials are optimistic about the potential.

By JAMIE JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003

He reached into a drawer and, offering a slight smile, pulled out a white sheet of paper. He placed it on his desk and pointed to color-coded blocks, detailing the layout of the Hernando County Airport complex.

Airport director Bob Mattingly, who recently resigned his position, said he was pleased with the state of development at the airport and its adjacent industrial sites off Spring Hill Drive.

The 70 lots within the Airport Industrial Park are nearly full. Two of seven phases at the Corporate AirPark are complete. And, in November, two new hangars with 28 slots for private airplanes opened. So far, 19 are filled.

The site, spreading across 2,400 acres, should continue to grow over the next 20 to 25 years, as more industrial buildings rise and cement the complex's reputation as the major locus of industry in Hernando, Mattingly said.

"We are well positioned to grow," he said.

Growth, however, has been slow. Business was flat last year at the industrial sites, Mattingly said. And some company owners who lease space at the industrial park have complained that the property looks more dilapidated by the year, and they wonder if businesses will continue locating there.

"I can only say one thing," said Gus Guadagnino, a past president of the Hernando County Manufacturers Association, who has rented space in the park since 1985. "It's stagnant."

Mike McHugh, the county's business development director, said he agrees that the park may need some spiffing up. But he said the site is economically strong with a diversity of industry, which has helped weather downturns in any market.

He plans in coming months to market the complex in national trade publications and across the Tampa Bay area, highlighting its proximity to the Suncoast Parkway and Hernando County's low building costs. He sees only potential in the property, bordered on the east and west by U.S. 41 and the Suncoast Parkway.

"We are in uncertain economic times right now, but I feel very optimistic," he said.

A former World War II military airfield, the property got its first runways in 1942, when soldiers practiced on B-17s and B-24s. The training field was active until late 1945, when military officers declared it surplus property and deeded the land to the city of Brooksville, which later turned it over to Hernando County.

The property has become home to a mixture of buildings that serve industry and aviation. About 1,000 people work there.

The site is self-sufficient, and all revenues are placed back into the facility, with the exception of building taxes that earn the county about $450,000 a year.

Three lots are available in the main industrial park, open since 1982; the remaining 67 lots are leased by businesses making everything from car parts to industrial signs to sausage. They rent space ranging from 2 to 4 acres.

With the space filled, the airport began work on a Corporate AirPark about five years ago. The development's 250 acres offer sites from 2 to 50 acres. Five lots are taken, and 23 remain available.

The site is essentially clear land with roads, water and sewer lines. Anyone interested in the property must construct their own buildings. Prior to his resignation, Mattingly said he hoped local construction companies would erect speculative buildings in coming years. Ultimately, he hopes the AirPark will spread across 650 acres.

Also under construction is the Airport RailPark, a 60-acre site on the property's eastern edge. As part of that $2.1-million project, financed partly with state grants, workers are connecting the land to a CSX trunk line leading to the Port of Tampa.

Companies will be able to have large shipments sent to their buildings. Mattingly said he hoped the railway would be finished late this year. Marketing of the property has continued, he said.

Revenue from the industrial sites helps pay for operations at the airport, which has two runways, one at 5,000 feet and another at 7,100 feet. They are large enough to land Boeing 737s, yet only private, corporate and military planes use the facility.

The airport is a popular destination for fliers from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Citrus and Sumter counties, and the airport's 40 spots for private planes have been full for years. In November, 28 more spaces opened.

Nineteen people are paying about $250 a month to park their aircraft in the new slots, and Mattingly said he believed the buildings would be be full within the next six months. The hangars already are paying for themselves, and the airport may open 10 more slots when the newest batch is filled, Mattingly said.

"We have preliminary plans and are waiting to see how they lease," he said.

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