Half of Hazleton airport land could become business park

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Oct. 28--Developers who specialize in aviation management and design projects could convert more than half the land at Hazleton Municipal Airport into an aviation business park and hangars that could house aircraft owned by larger corporations, a city official said Wednesday.

Representatives from L.R. Kimball Associates, an architectural and engineering firm with offices in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia, presented plans to city representatives and the Hazleton Municipal Airport Advisory Board for developing the park atop 200 acres of city-owned land south of the runway and airport property along Old Airport Road in Hazle Township, airport advisory board member Bob Delese said. "They want to attract aviation-related business," Delese said.

"It wouldn't be just repairs; it would be for any corporation that uses an aircraft that we can get to base their aircraft there."

The facility could attract business from firms like Hershey Foods, he said. "They want to develop a hangar and have them base their jets there," Delese said.

The meeting was held in executive session because most of the discussions involved a potential land sale, City Director of Public Works John Ackerman recently said.

Mayor Lou Barletta was briefed on the proposal and L.R. Kimball representatives gave attendees a brief rundown of the project.

"It's just in the development stages," Delese stressed.

The city would decide whether to pursue the project further. It hinges on "land release" approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. The proposed project site includes land south of the runway, as well as airport property between Old Airport Road and the Airport Beltway, he said.

The airport advisory board supports the project, Delese said. "It's not something that's going to die in the wind."

Officials also discussed whether property eyed by developers would be designated a Keystone Opportunity Zone, which would offer real estate tax exemptions and other tax relief.

KOZ designation wouldn't have an impact on city taxes because the property is in Hazle Township, Delese said. The township, however, collects a tax on hangars only -- not land at the airport, Delese said.

City revenue is limited to hangar rental fees and a cut of skydiving and fuel sales, Delese said.

The project is similar to a proposal made a few years ago by former mayor John Quigley. He proposed developing a business park around the airport while lengthening the runway.

A hotel/conference center project at Pittsburgh International Airport, runway reconstruction and overlay at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport, runway safety area improvements at Williamsport Regional Airport and control center projects for U.S. Airways are among the projects L.R. Kimball lists on its website.

Its airport engineering team completed "hundreds of development projects for airports across the country" and have worked at small general aviation facilities, commuter and corporate jet facilities, larger airports with scheduled passenger service and at major hub carrier airports, the website reads.

The firm also has experience in municipal construction projects, and water and wastewater projects, and can develop 3-D maps that identify wetlands and other factors that impact distribution of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region, the website reads.

Corporate headquarters for L.R. Kimball is based in Ebensburg, Pa., and the firm has offices in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Moon Township and State College.

sgalski@standardspeaker.com

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