Friday, November 17, 2017
News Roundup

Hernando commissioners set to sort out latest airport controversy

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BROOKSVILLE — When Hernando County commissioners meet Tuesday, they will have yet another complicated controversy to sort out involving property at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

For months, commissioners have been in the middle of a dispute over hangars that were supposed to be razed, according to the airport's master plan, but instead had been partially occupied by American Aviation, the airport's fixed-base operator. That prompted criticism by other airport tenants who complained that American Aviation was getting special favors.

Now another airport tenant, the air ambulance company Global Jetcare, has expressed interest in purchasing a separate piece of airport property. But because its purchase offer didn't meet the minimum bid required by the solicitation put out by the county and didn't include all of the property originally offered, commissioners delayed a decision and ordered an appraisal.

The appraisal has not yet been completed. But several weeks ago, Global Jetcare changed directions, offering to sign a lease with the county and leaving open the idea of buying the site on Technology Drive later. At that point, county officials put the lease approval on the commission agenda, and again the proposal has prompted new questions about proper provisions for turning county-owned airport property over for private use.

Jet Concepts, an airplane management company and the same company that questioned the hangar use by American Aviation, made its own offer to lease the Technology Drive property, prompting a lengthy debate.

Global Jetcare made an offer to lease for 18 months the hangar and terminal on the site at a cost of $9,000 per month with the first three months offered for free by the airport, an offer that amounts to $7,500 a month with the first three months abated. Jet Concepts based its offer — $6,500 for five years — on just the hangar. Global Jetcare had a letter from SunTrust offering an $800,000 loan for a $1 million purchase. Jet Concepts, which learned at the last minute that Global Jetcare had offered a lease, had little time to make its own pitch and did not have a financial-backing letter for a potential purchase in the future.

Some commissioners raised concerns about comparing apples to apples while others worried that Global Jetcare, which has been a tenant at the airport for years, might move to Lakeland if a quick decision could not be made. They also talked about whether price should be the only consideration since the county's rules are vague on the issue of how one offer could be more advantageous than another.

The issue was further confused when the attorney for another business, the other air ambulance at the airport, Jet ICU, questioned why all parties interested in the lease couldn't put in offers.

"It's not fair. It's not properly noticed, and you need to make sure it goes out to bid for all the interested parties in the best interest of the community,'' said Jet ICU attorney Michael Brannigan.

Another fly was thrown in the ointment by attorney Robert Morris, who has previously appeared before the commission representing American Aviation and who is also a former member of the now-defunct county Aviation Authority. Morris said that Jet Concepts president Robert Rey was evicted from the Technology Drive property when another business owned it several years ago, and his statement was confirmed by County Administrator Len Sossamon.

That allegation concerned commissioners. But Rey's associate, Steve Klapka, urged them to ask Rey directly what really happened.

Jim Kimbrough, an executive at SunTrust Bank, urged commissioners to approve the lease with Global Jetcare.

"I request that you please take advantage of an opportunity,'' Kimbrough said, noting that the company had presented the commission with a business plan — one that includes plans to expand from 22 to 32 employees.

Ultimately, the County Commission deadlocked, with commissioners Wayne Dukes and John Allocco wanting to move forward with Global Jetcare and commissioners Steve Champion and Nick Nicholson wanting to reject all offers and go through a formal bid process. Commissioner John Mitten was absent.

The compromise they reached was to bring the lease proposals from Global Jetcare and Jet Concepts back to the board on Tuesday, with each offering to lease both the hangar and the terminal for 18 months, and for Jet Concepts to include information on its financial backing. Mitten is expected to be at that meeting.

Since the meeting, Brannigan has continued to raise questions about the fairness of the process with the county's legal staff.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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