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Business

Airport growth exceeds expectations

Three manufacturers have committed to leases, which in turn will push up airport earnings growth by more than 6 percent.

By JENNIFER LIBERTO
Published February 15, 2004

A year's worth of booming business at the Hernando County Airport has put a twinkle in the eye of its director and has landed a long list of projects in his lap.

Growth came from leases at the two new airport hangars as well as at the RailPark, which has drawn commitments from three manufacturers: Duratek Precast Technologies Inc. of Tarpon Springs, 84 Lumber Co. of Eighty Four, Pa., and Topline Automotive Engineering Inc. of Chicago.

Duratek, which makes precast concrete, and 84 Lumber, one of the largest privately owned suppliers of building materials, are scheduled to open this fall. Topline, an auto parts manufacturer, plans to make hydraulic lifters for truck and car engines in Brooksville starting early next winter.

"Nobody thought it would take off like it did," airport director Don Silvernell said, referring to the excitement about the RailPark.

The airport's operating budget soared this year, compared with years past. Drawn from revenue collected on leases throughout the airport and its industrial sectors, the 2003-04 budget was 4 percent higher than a year earlier, for a total of $897,790. And that budget has yet to include another $20,000 due from 84 Lumber's annual lease, which begins in February and would push the airport's earnings growth to a little more than 6 percent.

In 2002-03, business had been flat at the airport's industrial sites compared with a year earlier.

And Silvernell has plenty to spend the money on.

The first project is to put rail into the new RailPark.

The county airport had been planning to cover half the $1.2-million to $1.4-million cost. Since Topline plans to bring 150 to 200 jobs that pay more than the county's average wage, the airport may now qualify for state and federal grants that would pay 80 to 100 percent of the cost of installing the rail infrastructure for the RailPark, said Mike McHugh, director of the Office of Business Development.

One place at the airport that has yet to take off is the Corporate AirPark.

Most of the water, sewer and telephone lines are in at the Corporate AirPark, but it attracted no new tenants in 2003. One reason is its distance from U.S. 41, Silvernell said.

The Corporate AirPark lies on the west side of the airport's 2,400 acres and has access to Anderson Snow Road and Spring Hill Drive. It was designed to attract more "corporate-type" offices. At this point, only one company, Omni Circuits, has located there over the past three years.

Silvernell wants to spur interest by building an access road that would run east-west on the south side of the airport and tie the AirPark to U.S. 41. The road would be south of Runway Drive and north of Martha Road. That project would cost about $1.6-million. The airport would apply for state grants to pay for much of the work.

Other projects in the works include building Bayflite a hangar and other facilities, at a cost of about $300,000, to house Bayflite's air ambulance. The hangar would also have office space and a taxiway, and it would house Sheriff's Office helicopters. Silvernell hopes to have Bayflite in the hangar by summer.

Silvernell also wants to address some safety issues at the airport. One project would be the installation of a larger water storage tank at the airport for better fire protection.

Another project would move runways to prevent them from overlapping. First, the eastern runway, which runs north-south, would be shifted farther south. Then the northern runway, which runs east-west, would be lengthened by at least 1,000 feet.

Also on the agenda is building an office for airport administration, which will cost about $350,000.

Currently, the airport shares offices with the county office for veterans services in a cozy but sometimes cramped location in the Airport Industrial Park. But that will have to wait until Silvernell finds a location that appeals to both his administration and the Aviation Authority.

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]


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