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Business 2005

Airport has plenty of plans, room for growth

Hernando County Airport officials are looking at extending runways, adding roads and hangars, and spurring business.

By JENNIFER LIBERTO
Published February 13, 2005


Fuchsia, turquoise and neon orange lines zigzag over acres of trees and retention ponds, a psychedelic map to the Hernando County Airport's future.

The lines represent a multitude of expansion projects: extended runways, new roads and new infrastructure to entice more companies to the county. And all are possible, based on money that appears to be pouring into the airport from grants and income associated with growth.

The airport has plenty of space to expand, sitting on 2,400 acres, which accommodates two runways long enough to land Boeing 737s, as well as the Airport Industrial Park, the Corporate AirPark and the RailPark. Revenue from business leases pays for operations and growth at the airport.

In 2004, the county airport's budget again grew, thanks to increased income from new leases throughout the RailPark, the Airport Industrial Park and pilots scrambling for hangar space after a Pasco airport closed.

The airport's 2004-05 operating budget grew to $964,673, 7.4 percent more than last year. The 2003-04 budget was 4 percent higher than the year before; the 2002-03 budget didn't grow.

The airport's hangars - including about two dozen spaces constructed three years ago - are all filled with nearly a yearlong waiting list. Those seeking hangar space at American Aviation, a private operator, also face about a year's wait.

The interest in the Hernando airport's hangars was fueled, in part, by the October closing of Tampa Bay Executive Airport in Odessa.

The county wants to build more hangars to ease the waiting lists. However, the state government has made policy changes that make it difficult for smaller airports to compete for monetary help, said county airport director Don Silvernell.

While Silvernell said he was optimistic that the county eventually would get grants, he also said he may look into borrowing money to put in more hangars.

"We're relatively debt free at this point," Silvernell said. The only debt the airport has is $450,000 that remains to be paid on the original bonds issued to create the Airport Industrial Park.

The Airport Industrial Park is full, with the recent additions of S&W Healthcare Corp. and TG United Labs, which is a subsidiary of an existing airport tenant, MCR American Pharmaceuticals. All available space in the park is promised to existing companies.

"We're basically out of room in the industrial park, with everything either leased or optioned," Silvernell said.

The RailPark also is nearly full, with most of the remaining space promised to existing tenants. In 2004, 84 Lumber was the first to move in, with its bright red sign shining a white "84" over U.S. 41 late at night. Duratek Precast Technologies Inc. moved into the park in August. And construction on Topline Automotive Engineering Inc. is expected to be done by the end of the year.

Yet, other areas at the airport complex struggle to get noticed. The Corporate AirPark has only five companies, despite water, sewer and telephone lines in place.

The 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.

But the cost to build there ranges about 12 to 15 percent higher than at the industrial park, said Mike McHugh, director of the county's Office of Business Development.

The county has a plan to spur interest there and farther south.

An east-west access road south of the airport would connect Corporate Boulevard with U.S. 41 and make the Corporate AirPark and other undeveloped land to the south more accessible to major roads.

While still in the design phase, other plans call for the extension of Corporate Boulevard south to tie into County Line Road. The airport would again apply for grants to pay for at least half of the work.

In the same project, the county would develop the southwest part of the airport near the new roads, with 40 to 50 parcels on 1.6- to 2.6-acre lots. The plan is to create another industrial park, like the current and popular Airport Industrial Park.

"There seems to be a lot of interest, especially when we tell them the south road is going in," Silvernell said.

Plans to extend the current runways to prevent them from overlapping are in the works. 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, since the current offices are shared with Veterans Services in a cozy but cramped spot in the Airport Industrial Park.

But Silvernell says that finding new digs for airport administration has been pushed further down the airport's ever-growing list of projects.

[Last modified February 8, 2005, 16:43:07]


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