BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — Tri-Cities Airport’s $18 million Aerospace Park could be ready for aerospace and advanced manufacturing companies to begin building in two years, based on an Airport Authority decision Thursday.

The future 160-acre park, adjacent to the airport, will be graded and prepped as a cost savings incentive to more easily attract companies to build there. Tri-Cities Airport officials say it will go hand in hand with not only the airport but with Northeast State Community College’s aviation program.

The authority unanimously approved conducting an $82,000 environmental assessment of 139 acres of the land, which will take six to eight months. Airport Executive Director Patrick Wilson expects the study to begin in June. He said 95 percent of the cost will be paid for with state grant money.

 After the study is complete, the land will be graded and made site-ready, so all businesses will have to do is build. Twenty-one acres of the land is already certified and ready for development. In the fall, Wilson expects detailed design of the park to begin and grading of the land to start next spring.

“That’s contingent on what level of funding may come from the city and county budget processes,” he said.

For Tri-Cities Airport, that would include the cities and counties that make up the Airport Authority — both Bristols, Kingsport, Johnson City, Sullivan County and Washington County. Wilson said an intergovernmental agreement is currently being drafted for the government bodies of those cities and counties to consider.

A bill was recently signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to amend the Regional Airport Authority Act. The act allows cities and counties to create boards, equivalent to those of a corporation, to serve as the governing bodies of airports. The bill, sponsored by several Northeast Tennessee senators and representatives, including state Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, allows regional airport authorities to “borrow money for corporate purposes and issue revenue bonds.”

Wilson said Thursday that it is a clarification, since the way the act was originally written wasn’t clear on whether cities and counties can back funding of an airport-related project.

The law doesn’t obligate municipalities to allocate taxpayer money for airport projects.

A municipal advisor agreement with Raymond James & Associates for the Aerospace Park’s funding initiative was approved by the authority Thursday. The agreement states that the proposed initiative would involve the cities and counties “jointly funding debt service on up to $18 million in bonds to be issued through TCAA [Tri-Cities Airport Authority].”

It also states that those partner cities and counties are currently working on including possible funding for the Aerospace Park project in their 2017-18 fiscal year budgets.

In other business, the board approved an increase in most airport parking rates that will take effect June 1. Short-term parking will now cost up to $14 a day, which is an increase of $2. Long-term parking will go up $1 to a maximum of $9 a day while long-term express, or credit card only, parking will decrease by $1 to $9 a day.

The amount paid depends on how long a vehicle is parked in the lot. Rates haven’t been changed since 2010.

SOURCE: http://www.heraldcourier.com/news/tri-cities-airport-aerospace-park-could-be-ready-for-businesses/article_5f63e44e-45b7-5c52-ad72-1247da16d717.html