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Aerospace Park starts to taxi forward

Hank Hayes • Apr 20, 2017 at 9:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Airport Authority commissioners passed financial and environmental initiatives on Thursday related to the Tri-Cities Airport’s Aerospace Park project viewed as the region’s next big jobs producer.

The airport hired Raymond James and Associates as its financial adviser for the estimated $18 million project and named the Atkins engineering firm to do an environmental assessment of the 160-acre southside airfield site.

“It’s a key piece of property and the future of this region,” NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership CEO Clay Walker said at Thursday’s Airport Authority meeting.

NETWORKS and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development are promoting the site for aviation-related economic development, said airport trade specialist Mark Canty.

In particular, Canty pointed out the site is being marketed to so-called “maintenance, repair and overhaul” companies.

“One of our current prospects came from LinkedIn Outreach,” Canty told commissioners. “Also, we attend a lot of trade shows.”

But only 21 acres of the site are state-certified, and the airport is attempting to put together a coalition of partners — Northeast Tennessee cities and counties — to help pay for the property’s grading.

Legislation recently passed by the Tennessee General Assembly would allow the Tri-Cities Airport Authority to borrow money and issue revenue bonds. It would also allow those city and county governments to pledge their “full faith and credit and unlimited taxing power” as guarantors to pay the principal and interest on bonds. That legislation has been signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, Airport Executive Director Patrick Wilson advised commissioners.

“The cities and counties are in their budget cycles potentially working a project number into their budgets, and that would be with a goal of issuing bonds through the airport over the next year that the cities and counties would back,” Wilson reported. “As a step toward that, we need to engage a municipal financial adviser.”

The airport’s agreement with Raymond James calls for a minimum fee of $25,000 and a maximum of $40,000. Atkins’ contract award totaled about $82,000, with 95 percent of that amount to be paid for with a state grant, according to Wilson.

Airport legal counsel Bill Bovender had previously noted the Airport Authority does not have a credit rating although it is authorized to issue bonds.

For more about the airport, go to www.triflight.com.

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