The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has been made aware of an $8.5 million bond issue to help finance grading at what has been billed as the region’s next big jobs producer, Airport Authority commissioners were told.
The background: On the Tri-Cities Airport’s southside airfield, the plan is to develop a “build-ready” site for a future “maintenance, repair or overhaul” facility or other aviation-related industry on approximately 160 acres. Airport officials expect Aerospace Park could attract up to 2,000 aviation-related jobs.
What’s been happening: The Airport Authority and the airport’s former owners — Bristol, Kingsport, Johnson City, and Sullivan and Washington counties — signed an agreement last year backing those bonds. The grading, according to the agreement, is estimated to cost up to $18 million. To date, airport officials say more than $23 million has been invested in infrastructure serving the total 160-acre area including grading a portion of the site, constructing an industrial access road and installing utilities. Twenty-one acres are certified through the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TDECD) as a Select Tennessee Site. Ten additional acres are expected to be prepared by late 2018.
According to an executive summary of the agreement, the bonds will be primarily repaid in the near-term future from amounts payable by the Tennessee Airport Authority members.
Airport Authority Chairman Jon Smith asked airport Executive Director Patrick Wilson to submit progress reports to them. “They’re our partners, and they’re very important,” Smith noted. “They want to know exactly where this is going.”
Are powerful people on board with Aerospace Park?
The project has the backing of Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell. The Northeast Tennessee delegation of state lawmakers met earlier this year with Gov. Bill Haslam to pitch the project.
A $500,000 site development grant announced by the TDECD put the project’s grant funding at around $5 million, according to Wilson. Still, the project is short of its fundraising goal.
Haslam’s budget amendment passed by state lawmakers did not include another earmarked appropriation for Aerospace Park but did include $20 million to be added to the state’s Aeronautics Development Fund. The airport is expected to compete for a chunk of that money.
Why is Aerospace Park important?
The airport is trying to expand its revenue base. Ridership, which generates fee-related revenues, is projected to decrease 2.4 percent next year. In the airport’s proposed $6.5 million spending plan for the coming fiscal year, landing fees and terminal building rents are expected to go up slightly.
The airport continues to market Aerospace Park at trade shows. NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership is working with the airport.
A recently released NETWORKS quality of life video about Northeast Tennessee is helping, Wilson said. “We used it six times the first week. … It’s been very valuable to us,” he told Airport Authority commissioners.