LEBANON — The city of Middletown is looking at ways to enhance and expand operations at its airport, and it may have found a willing partner in the Warren County Port Authority.
Denise Hamet, Middletown’s economic development director, said there is a lot of undeveloped acreage at Hook Field and the demand for hangars — which are currently all filled — is increasing. She said the city is looking to expand educational opportunities at the airport such as flight and helicopter training, possibly through a partnership with Cincinnati State Community and Technical College. There is also federal money available to retrain military veterans that could be tapped.
“We think it’s a great economic development asset as other airports become full,” Hamet said. “We not only see the development of more hangar space, we would like to make it more of a gateway to Middletown.”
The future of the airport has been the subject of much speculation in recent months. Late last year, information was leaked from a Middletown City Council executive session that the city was considering selling Hook Field.
City officials downplayed the discussions as part of the budgeting process and their yearly evaluation of all its assets. The notion of selling the airport was also cast as unlikely because the city has 20 years worth of Federal Aviation Administration grants to repay.
Warren County Economic Development Director Martin Russell broached the subject of partnering with Middletown on future projects at the airport during the port authority’s board meeting on Monday. Middletown, which lies in Butler and Warren counties, could choose any port authority to partner with, even though the airport sits within Butler County.
Russell told the port authority’s board he was looking for guidance on whether they would be interested in reaching across the border. Some members expressed concern there could be political fallout with Butler County officials.
“Are there any unintended consequences that we haven’t thought about?” board member Jill Hreben said. “I think you have to use your discretion a little bit and get the county’s input into whether or not you just work with Middletown directly, or, try to be courteous to the Butler County Port Authority.”
Board members were concerned it might appear Russell was trying to “steal” projects from other jurisdictions. Both he and Middletown Economic Development Program Manager Matt Eisenbraun said the idea came up when they were working on projects underway on the Warren County side of Middletown near Atrium Medical Center.
Hamet said it is still very early in this process, and perhaps, they can work with both port authorities as they try to find creative ways to develop ideas and fund improvements at Hook Field.
Mike Campbell, who is the executive director of the Butler County Port Authority, was not aware of the communications between Warren County and Middletown, but fully expected to hear from Russell soon.
He said the Butler County Port Authority has so many projects going on right now, he’s not sure they can take a major role in what looks to be a pretty big venture.
“Based on where our volume is and our capability and everything, you don’t even know if you’ve got the where-with-all necessarily to do everything…,” Campbell said of a potential partnership among the three entities. “I’m pretty confident at some point we’ll talk about it. We’ll see what our participation would be.”