Sunday, October 29, 2000

Blue Ash wants to buy airport

Cincinnati talks of sale

By Walt Schaefer and Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BLUE ASH — This northeastern Hamilton County suburb could soon own the airport that shares its name, settling an issue that has simmered for more than a decade.

        City Manager Marvin Thompson says a motion passed unanimously by Cincinnati City Council last week putting the airport up for sale has Blue Ash officials thinking blue skies.

        “We certainly are interested in controlling the destiny of the largest piece of open land in our community,” Mr. Thompson said. “We have tried to purchase it since 1987.”

        He said a $20 million price tag mentioned during Cincinnati's council meeting is a reasonable point at which to begin negotiations.

        “If that is their number, it's a number close enough,” he said. “We can sit down and work it out. ... Let's get to the table.”

        Officials in both cities see strong advantages in making a deal. Mr. Thompson said Blue Ash has ambitious plans for developing the site, while keeping an airport operating there. Cincinnati would like to invest the proceeds to generate revenue for city improvements.

        The 226-acre airport sits in the heart of Blue Ash — south of Glendale-Milford Road and bordered on the east by Reed-Hartman Highway and the west by Plainfield Road.

        Cincinnati Councilman Pat DeWine said it is a good sign that Blue Ash is willing to start negotiations at $20 million. Mr. DeWine made the motion to sell the airport.

        It's obvious that a deal should be struck, he said. For months Blue Ash officials have been making advances that Mr. Dewine said Cincinnati administrators have seemingly ignored.

        “I don't know whether it's just the typical City of Cincinnati bureaucratic inertia and slowness, or a bureaucratic reluctance to give up something,” he said.

        Mr. DeWine said $20 million was just an estimate of the airport's worth based on 1998 negotiations, when Blue Ash offered $17 million and the city asked for $24 million.

        City Manager John Shirey would not comment on the latest advances by Blue Ash. He told the council that the city is waiting for updated appraisals on the airport, but that it is worth more than $20 million. He did not say how much more.

        Mayor Charlie Luken said he is only interested in getting a fair price, although he didn't know what that would be.

        “The deal ought to move and it ought to move quickly,” he said.

        Mr. Thompson said he is just as eager to begin talks as Mr. Luken.

        Blue Ash negotiated purchasing the site over years with several Cincinnati managers including Sylvester Murray, Scott Johnson and Gerald Newfarmer, Mr. Thompson said.

        A tentative agreement was reached with Mr. Newfarmer but fell through when Mr. Newfarmer was pushed out of the job in 1993 by a majority of council members, Mr. Thompson said.

        “We have certain objectives for that site,” he said. “We do not want it sold to someone else. We do not want it sold to a developer.”

        Mr. Thompson envisions creating a new, passive park along Plainfield Road with high-tech development along Reed-Hartman Highway. The airport would remain but be modernized and made more attractive.

        “The airport does serve Blue Ash businesses, but it gets a great deal of use from recreational pilots. A lot of hobbyists use it,” the city manager said.

        Mr. Luken said Blue Ash has made advances on and off since he took office and that officials there are “better equipped to develop and improve the facility” than Cincinnati.

        A recent change in federal law, which had prohibited depositing proceeds from the sale of the airport into an investment account, now allows the city to use the money for any purpose, city officials said. And like Mr. DeWine, Mr. Luken wants to see it put to work generating revenue.

        “If we would ever sell the airport, I would like to create a dedicated fund to improve inner city playgrounds or something like that,” he said. “The proceeds should not just turn around and be spent.”


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