Airport development officials optimistic about new prospect for south side tracts

Hank Hayes • Aug 22, 2013 at 9:37 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — A deal to bring economic development to Tri-Cities Regional Airport’s south side airfield could happen soon, Airport Authority commissioners were advised Thursday.

“We feel like we’ve got this individual about locked down,” Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey, an Airport Authority commissioner, said of the deal.

Airport Authority commissioners, nonetheless, decided to hire Columbia, S.C.-based consultant R. Kennedy Holt to help market two south side land tracts — “Aviation Parks I and II” — for $25,000.

“It was agreed that engaging a consultant with a track record of recruiting aviation-related businesses would be a wise step in marketing the parks,” said a TCRA memo submitted to commissioners.

TCRA is working with Sullivan NETWORKS Partnership to create jobs on the airfield, and NETWORKS is providing funding toward the effort.

Holt is charged with presenting information to prospects “in a way that showcases the airport and region,” in addition to identifying industry types to locate on the properties.

He is also supposed to identify conferences “with a target rich environment” of prospects and put together a marketing budget.

“Industries and opportunities come your way and usually these types of opportunities require very quick response,” Holt told Airport Authority commissioners. “You find yourself gathering all the information they are requesting and putting it together ... and it’s not consistently presented and easy for your prospect. ... What we’re trying to do here is be proactive. ... All of this needs to be in step with local initiatives from an economic development standpoint.”

One 140-acre tract, Aviation Park I, has been designated a “Select Tennessee Certified Site” by the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development.

The certification means the site is ready for immediate development with no environmental issues, has all utilities in place and also has a transportation plan. Both tracts have taxiway and road access.

“We’ve raised the profile of Aviation Park I, and it is on (the state’s) radar,” TCRA Trade Development Specialist Mark Canty told commissioners.

The collaboration between the state, TCRA and local industry recruiters shows “the community is working for the betterment of the area,” said Airport Authority Chairman Jim Rector of Bristol, Va.

While the economic development effort moves forward, Airport Authority commissioners were also advised that TCRA’s $15.7 million main runway resurfacing is on track to happen next month.

All flights will cease and the 8,000-foot-long airport runway will be closed on the Sept. 13 and 20 weekends to get fresh asphalt, runway shoulders and updated lighting, commissioners were told.

Airport Authority Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin, Johnson City’s mayor, noted the main runway area faces “geotechnical issues’ — namely sinkholes.

“(The sinkholes) range in size from small to large. ... We’ve got sinkholes with almost every project we do,” TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson said of the challenge in his first meeting since being rehired by the Airport Authority.

Elizabethton, Tenn.-based Summers-Taylor has been awarded the job, which is mostly being funded by a $14.2 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. State and TCRA funds collected from passenger facility charges will cover the rest of the project.

For more about TCRA. go to www.triflight.com.

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